Site 31 for the Soyuz rocket family in Baikonur
History of Site 31 and 32
At the end of 1958, a year-and-half after the R-7 ballistic missile had began flying, the second launch complex for the same rocket was founded at Site 31, east of the original launch facilities in Tyuratam. Unlike the test launch complex at Site 1 and 2, the Site 31 facility was planned as an operational and training "battle station" for the R-7 missile. The new complex included the launch pad, the MIK assembly building, the MIK GCh building for the processing of the nuclear warhead, disel-powered energy generating facility and the new residential complex at Site 32.
Based on experience gained during the construction at Site 1 and 2, the flame trench at Site 31 launch pad was scaled down in comparison to that of at Site 1. The assembly and support facilities were also placed much closer to the launch pad.
The complex was completed at the end of 1960. On February 27, 1961, the first R-7 ICBM lifted off from Site 31.
As the R-7's role as a carrier of the nuclear weapons had diminished, Site 31 along with Site 1 was re-purposed for orbital launches, including missions with cosmonauts onboard. The facility could be used for access to orbits with four different inclinations toward the Equator.
By the end of 1966, the fueling station designated 11G12 started operations providing fueling for piloted spacecraft, satellites and planetary spacecraft. The original Soyuz 7K-OK spacecraft and the 7K-L1 circumlunar vehicles were prepared for launch at the processing building at Site 31. However, on December 14, 1966, an on-pad explosion of a launch vehicle with the 7K-OK No. 1 spacecraft, which cost three lives, required urgent repairs at the facility.
On Jan. 14, 1969, Soyuz-4 was launched from Site 31, followed by Soyuz-6 on October 11, Soyuz 8 on October 13 and Soyuz-9 on June 1, 1970. Another wave of piloted launches started in 1980 with the launch of Soyuz-36 on May 26 and Soyuz-39 on March 22, 1981.
Yet another group of piloted launches came in the wake of the 1983 launch failure, which damaged a primary piloted launch pad at Site 1. Soyuz T-10 was launched from here on Feb. 8, 1984, followed by Soyuz T-11 on April 3 and Soyuz T-12 on July 17, 1984. As of 2006, out of 100 Russian piloted launches, a total of 12 lifted off from Site 31, according to Roskosmos.
According to the Russian press, during 2005, the launch complex and the processing facilities at Site 31 was being refurbished for the Soyuz-2 rocket.
Crew missions return to Site 31
In 2009, to support the anticipated increase of the International Space Station crew from three to six, Russia had to double piloted launches from two to four annually. The number of Progress cargo supply missions was to increase as well. As a result, various upgrades were conducted at Site 31 during 2007 and 2008, to enable piloted launches from both Site 1 and Site 31, Kazakhstan Today reported, quoting Baikonur officials.
Upgrades covered the fueling system and the flight control bunker. Also, a new air-conditioning system for the payload section of the rocket, a clean room and communications cables were installed.
At the time, the first launch of the Progress spacecraft from Site 31 was expected in 2008 and the first piloted Soyuz (since 1984) would blast off from the same pad in 2009. In reality, the first cargo ship, Progress M-66, lifted off from Site 31 on Feb. 10, 2009. Progress M-07M and Progress M-15M were also launched from the same pad on Sept. 10, 2010, and April 20, 2012, respectively.
In April 2011, the head of Roskosmos, Anatoly Perminov, said that Site 31 would be ready for piloted launches by the end of that year. Manned launches did resume from Site 31 on October 23, 2012, when Soyuz TMA-06M lifted off.
Moving both -- piloted and cargo launches -- to Site 31 would enable Roskosmos to start planned refurbishment of the launch pad at Site 1, which apparently was planned to start around 2014.
Upgrades for Fregat-SB
During 2009, a processing building at Site 31 -- MIK 40 -- was upgraded with a new work place for handling the Fregat-SB upper stage, which would be used with the Zenit-3M (Zenit-2SLB) rocket.
On Dec. 28, 2011, during the launch of the Soyuz-2.1a rocket with a cluster of Globalstar-2 satellites, Pad No. 6 at Site 31 sustained some damage. Strong winter winds pushed the fiery exhaust from the rocket into the service gantry, causing its deformation and preventing proper rotation of the structure into the operational position around the launch vehicle. Repairs at the pad were expected to last until the end of February - beginning of March 2012. (553)
400th rocket lifts off from Site 31
Progress MS-13 lifts off from Site 31 on December 6, 2019.
Completing Russian missions to the International Space Station, ISS, in 2019 and for the 2010s, the Soyuz-2-1a rocket lifted off from Baikonur on December 6, 2019, successfully sending the Progress MS-13 cargo ship on a three-day trek to the outpost. Counting 14 suborbital launches from Site 31, it was the 397th liftoff in the history of the facility. Then, on April 9, 2020, the first crew-carrying Soyuz-2-1a variant with the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft lifted off from Site 31, marking the 400th launch from the facility, according to some accounts.
The R-7 ballistic missile on the launch pad at Site 31 in Baikonur circa 1960. Copyright: RussianSpaceWeb.com
Soyuz-4 lifts off from Site 31 on Jan. 14, 1969.
The upper composite with a pair of Cluster spacecraft inside MIK 32 assembly building in July 2000. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
The Soyuz rocket during the processing inside MIK 32 assembly building. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
The housing and support complex at Site 32. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak
The Soyuz-FG rocket is being installed on the launch pad at Site 31 in Baikonur on Oct. 18, 2007. Credit: Roskosmos
Progress M-66 lifts off from Site 31 in Baikonur on Feb. 10, 2009. Credit: Roskosmos
The Progress M-07M cargo ship at Site 31 shortly before launch on Sept. 10, 2010. Credit: TsENKI
The Soyuz U rocket rolls out from the assembly building at Site 32 two days before the launch of Progress M-15M cargo ship on April 20, 2012. Credit: RKK Energia
View of Site 31 shortly before launch of Foton-M4 satellite on July 19, 2014. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
Soyuz-2-1a rocket prepares to launch Progress MS-14 spacecraft from Site 31 on April 25, 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos