Dual launch facility for the N1 rocket in Tyuratam


Launch facility for the N1 rocket.

N-1/Energia infrastructure overview:

Complex designation
Completion date
110 left (PU-1)
N-1/Energia launch pad
110 right (PU-2)
N-1/Energia assembly building; compressor station; pyrotechnic position; vertical dynamic test stand;
Assembly and fueling complex (MZK) -
Test stand/launch pad
Used for the first Energia launch in 1987. Built specifically for Energia Buran program
Buran landing complex
Built specifically for Energia-Buran program; Rebuilt for commercial operations;
Processing building for the Buran orbiter, test firing complex
Built specifically for Energia Buran program

Origin of the N1 launch facility

The development of the launch complex for the N1 rocket was delegated to GSKB Spetsmash, led by Vladimir Barmin. Within the organization, Department No. 15 led by A. S. Zakharov took responsibility for the N1 launch complex.

During 1960-1961, GSKB Spetsmash completed a preliminary design of the launch complex, capable of accommodating a version of the N1 rocket with the launch mass of 2,000 tons. Between 1962 and 1963, the project was reworked for the N1 rocket with a liftoff mass of 3,000 tons.

In the initial stage of design GSKB Spetsmash considered the possibility of transporting the N1 in vertical position from the assembly building to the launch pad on top of a giant crawler -- exactly the method adopted for the US Saturn-5 moon rocket. However, the problems of construction of a more than 100 meters tall assembly building, coupled with the difficulties of maintaining the stabilization of the giant structure during transportation, forced to abandon the idea.

However, the return to the traditional Soviet method of transporting the rocket horizontally and erecting it vertically on the pad, presented its own problems in case of N1. Side wind would easily blow a rail transporter carrying a rocket of this size off its tracks. In addition, no Soviet manufacturer was able to build a power jack capable of erecting the N1 into upright position. The biggest power jack which was available at the time, was developed for the launch complex of the Proton rocket. It boasted a hydraulic cylinder one meter in caliber, which had a length of nine meters and would extend up to 16 meters. Engineers brainstormed different combinations of a series of such devices. In the final design, two pairs of such hydraulic jacks would be employed. They were mounted on a platform, which would move on two parallel rail lines 18 meters from each other. (112)

In order to determine the configuration of the launch pad, which would be located at Site 110 in Baikonur, NII-88 research institute and TsPI-31 design institute of the Ministry of Defense, conducted large-scale studies of possible gas dynamics associated with the launch of the N1 booster, from various types of pads. Special scale models were used for testing.

In the second half of the 1960s, a special model of the N1 launch complex in the scale of 1 to 10 was built at NIIKhSM research institute. It was designed for the actual launch of a test rocket, IRS, powered by a solid-propellant motor with the total thrust of 45 tons.

Design details


The final design of the N1 launch pad, featured a special base ring with the outer diameter of 12 meters and internal diameter of nine meters, carrying 24 footholds on which rocket would rest before the liftoff.

A giant pit would descent five stories below the launch pad, in order to absorb raging flame from the rocket's 30 engines. The exhaust then would erupt to the surface via three exit channels radiating away from the pad at the angle of 120 degrees from each other. The underground space between three exhaust channels was filled with service galleries, containing countless support equipment. Special metal pillars held the base ring over the exhaust pit.

According to recollections of Vladimir Klimov, a veteran of the project, the maximum of systems were located underground based on the rationals ranging from hiding the facility from satellite reconnaissance to protecting it in case of the launch accident.

On the launch pad, the 105-meter N1 rocket was flanked by a cyclopean service tower, standing 145 meters tall (147 meters according to recollections of Vladimir Klimov, a veteran of the project). Nearby lightning towers reached 185 meters above the ground. Shortly before the launch, the tower would be rotated away from the rocket on a special circular rail with the outer diameter of 60 meters. The interfaces between the tower and a rocket were designed to accommodate their movements relative to each other. Tremendous pressure of wind at the altitude of 79 meters above the ground could shift the rocket and the tower as much one meter from each other. The wheels of the tower were designed to withstand 200 tons of vertical pressure and 40 tons of sideway pressure.

The fueling system had to handle 1,020 tons of propellant loaded into the tanks of the rocket.

The N-1 launch complex included two launch pads at Site 110 ("right" and "left"), command post (No. 103) and administrative building (No. 20).

Building the N1 launch complex

The Central Directorate of the Space Assets of the Ministry of Defense, TsUKOS, completed the evaluation of the launch complex design by the beginning of 1964. The same year the construction of launch facilities for the N1 rocket started in Baikonur, north of the original launch complex for the R-7 rocket.

From the outset of the project, the expansive launch infrastructure for the N1 rocket, along with its propulsion system, had been an "Achilles' feet" of the entire project.

On December 24, 1963, a government decree distributed the assignments on the production of the launch infrastructure for the N1 rocket. (52) Total 120 organizations around the Soviet Union participated in the project. (112)

However, the proposals of the Ministry of Defense for its share of spending on the program had not been approved and as late as 1965, only one third of the required funds for the launch facilities was actually delivered.

At the peak of the construction, total 35,000 military workers were involved in the Moon project in Tyuratam. (51)

In January 1967, the 6th Test Directorate was formed at Baikonur responsible for flight testing of the N1 moon complex. The directorate grew from a test military unit already existing in Tyuratam and led by Lt. Colonel Vasiliy Shirshov.

In order to staff the new directorate, Shirshov even arranged early graduation for some students at engineering colleges supplying specialists to the rocket forces.

The majority of management for the 6th Directorate came from 1st Directorate. Evgeni Moiseev was the Chief of the 6th Directorate. Pavel Karaev was appointed Deputy Chief.

The 6th Directorate was primarily staffed in April 1967 with graduates of the military colleges. (70)

N-1 launches

Four launches of the N-1 rocket between 1969 and 1972 were all unsuccessful due to various failures of the engines and flight control system of the first stage. The fifth test launch, which many believed would finally validate the launcher, had never taken place. Still, some development at the llaunch facility had continued as late as 1974. A mechnical shop No. 316 was completed next to MIK-112 in 1970 in support of the program.

The new beginning: The Energia-Buran

In June 1974, the government officially canceled the N-1 project. The decision shocked test officers at Baikonur so much that they signed an unprecedented collective letter, which urged the government to continue the project. Naturally, it had no effect.

Partially ready vehicles and test articles of the N-1 rocket were destroyed. The storage, playgrounds and gazibos made out of N-1 elements and resembling avantgarde sculptures can be seen dispersed around Tyuratam.

In October 1977, a special commission of the Strategic Missile Forces reviewed the former N-1 launch facilities and officially recommended to convert them for the Energia-Buran project, which was a "symmetrical response" to the US Space Shuttle program. Actual construction work at the complex started in 1978. The Ministry of Defense was responsible for all construction work at the range.

Deputy Minister of Defense for construction Col. General N.F. Shestopalov and his deputy Lt. General K.M. Vertelov were in charge of the project. At NIIP-5, Colonel V.A. Lenkevich became a head of the 6th Directorate, a test branch responsible for testing of the Energia-Buran hardware.

In June 1978, the government created a special inter-ministerial commission responsible for coordination and review of all issues of construction and modernization of the infrastructure for the Energia-Buran.

In September 1978, the Military-Industrial Commission conducts a special meeting in NIIP-5 to review the tasks for the construction effort. In December 1978, the Soviet of Ministers and Central Committee CPSU finalized the budget of the project. The cost of the construction in Baikonur exceeded 1.5 billion rubles.

In addition to the existing facilities, several major facilities were built from scratch specifically for Energia-Buran program:

Total 80,000 military construction workers were involved in the project.

The mockup of the Buran orbiter arrived to Baikonur on December 8, 1984. It was used for fit tests with the Energia rocket. One year later, Baikonur saw for the first flight version of the Buran orbiter. After its final assembly. The electrical tests and engine firings started in April 1986.

After two flights in 1987 and 1988, the Russian ministry of defense, the main user of the complex stopped funding the program. In 1991, the status of the Energia-Buran project was changed from the armaments program to a civilian project under auspices of the newly created and under-funded Russian Space Agency. In 1992, RSA made a decision to mothball the remaining Energia-Buran hardware.

In the summer of 1993, during a widely attended press-conference in Baikonur, Yuri Semenov, NPO Energia Designer General publicly admitted the painful reality: the Energia-Buran project, the highest achievement of the Russian space technology, was canceled.

The following years saw the Energia-Buran hardware and facilities falling apart in Baikonur. The launch pads dominating Baikonur's skyline were quickly turned into rusty ruins as a sad reminder of their former glory.

RKK Energia managed to reclaim the most precious assets of the Energia-Buran era, moving Soyuz and Progress pre-launch operations into former Buran processing building at Site 254. RKK Energia also uses the same building to process its Block D upper stages flying on top of the Proton rocket.

The small processing rooms for Russo-French Starsem joint-venture were also erected inside the Energia-Buran assembly building at Site 112. Here, European Cluster spacecraft went through pre-launch processing during 2000.

Starsem operations brought some revival into majestic complex, including European-style canteen serving mostly ESA personnel.

The same building at Site 112 also became a "graveyard" for numerous elements of the Energia launcher. The flight-ready Buran orbiter was moved here from Site 254 and put on top of a fully assembled Energia booster. The mammoth vehicle became a popular stop for gangs of journalists invading Baikonur during high-profile launches.

Another test version of the Buran orbiter was left stranded at the test-firing pad at Site 254. The Baikonur officials were considering moving it into the city as a monument, however, the size of the vehicle made it impossible to overcome low bridge of the Moscow-Tashkent railroad, which cuts the cosmodrome from its residential area.

The N1 moon rocket launch log:

February 21, 1969: The N1-L3 launch (No. 3L) fails at T+68.7 seconds.

July 3, 1969: The N1-L3 launch (No. 5L) fails at liftoff.

June 27, 1971: The N1-L3 launch (No. 6L) fails at T+50.1 seconds.

November 23, 1972: The N1-L3 launch (No. 7L) fails at T+107 seconds.


The Energia rocket launch log:

May 15, 1987, 21:30 Moscow Time, Site 250: The first Energia super booster (Number 6SL) is launched from Site-251 in Baikonur carrying a Polyus military payload. The rocket performed flawlessly, however, Polyus orbital maneuvering system fired in the opposite direction due to the control system problem causing the payload to fall in the ocean.

November 15, 1988: 06:00:02 Moscow Time, Site 112 left: The Energia super booster carrying unmanned Buran reusable shuttle blasted off from Baikonur. 206 minutes or two orbits later, the Buran automatically landed at the Yubileiniy airfield at Site 251 in Baikonur.


The structure of the 6th Directorate (Scientific Testing Directorate NIU) responsible for the testing of the N-1 moon rocket in Baikonur:

  • 1st Department led by Mark Berezin responsible for ground equipment;
  • 2nd Department led by Vladimir Mishenko reponsible for propulsion;
  • 3rd Department led by Vitaly Romanenko was responsible for the overall launcher and flight control system;
  • 4th Department led by Gennady Rakitin was responsible for measurement;
  • Vladimir Ovchinnikov led the coordination office;
  • Vasily Borodin led the political directorate;
  • Lev Rutsky led the local Communist Party committee.


This page is maintained by Anatoly Zak; last update: November 5, 2023


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The N-1 moon rockets during testing on the launch pads at Site 110 in Baikonur.

A scale model of the launch pad for the N1 rocket. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

This scale model shows a vast five-floors deep underground complex, which surrounded a pyramid-shaped flame deflector (partially visible in the center) on the launch pad of the N1 rocket. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A 1:10 scale model of two floors of a rotating service structure 11U212, which serviced Block V of the N1 rocket. These two floors were located 52.8 meters and 56.4 meters above the ground. (See photos above). Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

Scale model of the base structure of the rotating tower, which serviced the N1 rocket on the launch pad. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A conceptual scale model demonstrating the possibility of "recycling" the N1 launch infrastructure for prospective launch vehicles, such as Vulkan and RLA. Copyright © 2002 Anatoly Zak

A conceptual drawing of the Energia-Buran launch infrastructure at Site 110. The original rotating service structure is shown. Credit: KBOM

Energia-Buran sits on the "left" launch pad at Site 110. View from the north.


A pair of rail-based transporter-erectors originally built for the N1/L3 complex was later reconfigured for the Energia-Buran super-heavy rocket. They were known as "grasshoppers" for their hydraulic lifting system used to install the rocket in vertical position on the launch pad. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak