The world's largest space center
Although Baikonur has always been known around the world as the launch site of Russia's space missions, from its outset in 1955 and until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the primary purpose of this center was to test liquid-fueled ballistic missiles. The official (and secret) name of the center was State Test Range No. 5 or 5 GIK (GIK-5). It remained under control of the Soviet and Russian Ministry of Defense until the second half of the 1990s, when the Russian civilian space agency, Roskosmos, and its industrial contractors started taking over individual facilities.
In mid-2006, head of Roskosmos Anatoly Perminov said that last Russian military personnel would leave Baikonur for Plesetsk by the end of 2007. In reality, the process was much slower and much more painful for rank-and-file members of the military, who often faced numerous problems when repatriating from Kazakhstan to Russia, especially in obtaining housing. Nevertheless, on April 30, 2008, in one of his last moves during the second term as president, Vladimir Putin signed a decree disbanding GIK-5. Eight months later, on Dec. 16, a new Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, signed a decree on the consolidation of Baikonur's infrastructure. It resulted in the formation of the Yuzhny ("southern") space center led by Sergei Smirnov and comprising former assets and workforce of various subcontractors, which served the facility, including KB Motor, KBOM, KBTM, KBTKhM, NPF Kosmotrans and OKB Vympel. The consolidation promised to reduce unnecessary duplication and reduce the cost of operating the facility. In turn, Roskosmos, announced a formation of a special directorate responsible for running Baikonur.
In mid-2008, Russian space officials said that between 2005 and 2008, a total of 30 military units with 2,000 members of military personnel had been disbanded, as the center's facilities were transferred to Roskosmos. At the beginning of December 2008, Russian military was destroying classified hardware and obsolete pyrotechnic equipment in the last acts of the demilitarization of the center, Interfax news agency reported. As of Jan. 1, 2009, the only military installations remaining in Baikonur would be an air squadron based at the Krainy airfield and a directorate responsible for R-36M UTTKh and UR-100NU missiles.
On July 2, 2005, Russia and Kazakhstan reached a long-term agreement for the rent of Baikonur by the Russian Federation. Russia agreed to pay $115 million for the rent of the space center, several more million dollars were required per year for the maintenance and development of the facility. Despite existence of this document, five years later, Russian space officials still complained about various stumbling blocks in the usage of Baikonur for the goals of the Russian space program. (381) In September 2007, a crash of the Proton rocket in the Karaganda Region resulted in a two-month ban on all missions of the Russian workhore launcher and in a $61 million compensation bill from Kazakhstan. Only on May 7, 2010, Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbaev ratified an agreement with Russia on joint operation of Baikonur. As many as 50 interim agreements, covering various aspects of the Russian-Kazakh cooperation on Baikonur, had been required in between. (401)
On Oct. 7, 2011, the head of the Russian space agency Vladimir Popovkin told the Russian Duma (parliament) that Kazakhstan lifted its ban on launches of Russian ballistic missiles from Baikonur, clearing the way to resumptions of such missions as early as November 2011. However in the Spring of 2012, another legal hurdle postponed the launch of a Soyuz-2 rocket with the Metop-2 satellite, followed by a delay of the Kanopus satellite. All these launches heading north would need a new drop zone in the populated northwest area of Kazakhstan in order to reach polar orbit. Moscow now hoped to get yet another long-term permission of the Kazakh government to secure this site. However, Kazakhstan found the draft of the agreement delivered by Russia on May 25 drastically different from the version of the document that was agreed at the end of 2011. The problem escalated to become one of the topics at the Russian-Kazakh summit on June 7, 2012. In the wake of the meeting between Putin and Nazarbaev, official media in both countries declared a resolution of the problem to mutual satisfaction. Russia agreed to pay $460 thousand per year for the rent of the new drop zone in the Aktubinsk and Kustanai regions -- a real bargain comparing to the original asking price of $2 million. However, according to industry sources, a signing of a formal agreement on the issue had to be left until the meeting of prime-ministers Medvedev and Masimov in St. Petersburg on June 15.
At the time, Russian officials also complained that Kazakhstan was yet to legally recognize Russian investments into the local infrastructure despite more than a billion dollars spent by the Kremlin for the task. The Russian side also lacked a practical legal mechanism to remove unused infrastructure from the official list of rented facilities, leading to extra maintenance and security expenses.
Still, in 2012, the Russian government planned to spend 8.2 billion rubles until November 2015 for the upgrades of infrastructure at Baikonur. The plan reportedly included the construction of a new vehicle assembly building. However in 2014, as the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome was approaching its peak, Russian Finance Ministry made its first attempt to cut the entire 2.5-billion-ruble budget originally earmarked for Baikonur infrastructure in 2016. (707)
Political and financial issues around Baikonur were prompting Russia to move ahead with its plans to build an alternative site in the Far East. Facing possible end of Russian presence in Baikonur, the Kazakh government looked for potential future users of the center, which reportedly included ESA and Israel. (564) This plan had relied on the use of the Ukrainian Zenit rocket, until it also fell through in the wake of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in 2014.
According to the official data (116) released at the beginning of the 1990s, Baikonur Cosmodrome had 11 assembly buildings and nine launch complexes with 15 launch pads for space boosters. The cosmodrome also featured:
The entire center covered 6,717 square kilometers and extended 75 kilometers from north to south and 90 kilometers from east to west. The facility consumed 600 million kilowatt/hour of electric power annually. By 2010, five ground control stations supported launches from Baikonur. By the end of 2011, Kazakh government estimated value of Baikonur's infrastructure at 467 billion tenge ($3.4 billion). (541)
Central region (Korolev area)
A very first launch complex of the space center was built for the R-7 ICBM, developed at Korolev's OKB-1 design bureau. When Baikonur's test facilities started sprawling east and west from the original launch complex, this region became known as Korolev's area. After a relatively short life as a test complex, the R-7 facilities located in the central region of the range were converted into space launch sites. However, before OKB-1 completely switched to the development of space technology, a Korolev-designed R-9 ICBM was tested at Site 51, also located in the central region. The 1st Test Directorate based in the central region was responsible for processing of both -- the R-7 and R-9 rockets. After death of its first chief, Evgeni Ostashev, the 1st Directorate was led by Anatoli Kirillov. After Kirillov's promotion in 1967, his former deputy Vladimir Patrushev became the chief of the directorate. In his turn, Patrushev was replaced by his deputy, Vladimir Bululukov in 1975. (78) The Korolev area grew enormously in 1960s and 1970s, when manned lunar program and later Energia-Buran programs were underway.
Right flank (Yangel area)
The eastern section of Baikonur Cosmodrome, or so-called "right flank," was also known as "Yangel area." Since 1960, several generations of ballistic missiles and space launchers developed by Mikhail Yangel's design bureau had been tested here. Yangel's original ICBM -- R-16 -- was followed by different versions of R-36, MR-UR-100, R-36M and R-36M2 ballistic missiles. Initial tests of the Cosmos-1 booster and all launches of the Zenit-2 rocket were also conducted from the launch pads on the "right flank" of Baikonur.
Left flank (Chelomei area)
The west side of Baikonur Cosmodrome, or so-called "left flank," is also known as "Chelomei area." Since beginning of the 1960s, several generations of ballistic missiles and space launchers developed by Vladimir Chelomei's OKB-52 design bureau had been tested here: including UR-200 and several generations of UR-100 ICBM. The launch pads and processing facilities for OKB-52-designed Proton rocket were also located on the left flank. The 4th Test Directorate of the range was responsible for the processing of the Proton rocket.
Facilities of NIIP-5/GIK-5 (Baikonur Cosmodrome):
Traditionally for test sites around the world, various facilities in Baikonur were designated with numbers. These numbers were used in conjunction with word "ploshadka" which in Russian can have two meanings depending on the context: the construction site or a launch pad. Such double meaning often created confusion upon translation into English. Sometimes numbers assigned to "ploshadkas" would be interpreted as launch pad numbers, which is incorrect. The launch pads in Baikonur are usually identified as "puskovaya ustanovka" (or launching device) -- which have their own numbering system. Finally, buildings and technical facilities located within "ploshadkas" have their own designations. This web site uses term Site or Facility to translate word "ploshadka":
Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 6, 2020
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