Site 43 for Soyuz rockets in Plesetsk
The construction of a two-pad launch complex completed original plans for the deployment of the R-7 ballistic in Plesetsk. The dual complex brought a total of number of pads for the missile to four, while counting two other pads in Tyuratam, the R-7 had a total of six launch pads. Several other remote sites throughout the USSR had been selected for the deployment of R-7 but never developed. In the meantime, the very last launch pad built for the R-7 missile in Plesetsk, stood to see the latest incarnations of the R-7 rocket -- Soyuz-2 and Soyuz-1.
A satellite image showing Site 43 in Plesetsk with two launch pads (top) No. 3 (left) and No. 4 (right). Credit: Google Earth
Pad 3 ("Left" pad)
From March 22, 1968 to July 8, 1970, Pads No. 3 and No. 4 were modified to enable launches of Zenit-2M, Zenit-4, Zenit-4M and Meteor satellites.
In the meantime, two R-7A missiles were expected to be fired from Pad No. 3 in September 1969 during the Berkut exercise, however these plans were ultimately dropped.
From March 22 to July 8, 1970, the facility was under renovations with launches resuming here on Feb. 18, 1970. The first Zenit-based spacecraft was launched from here on May 17, 1972. From September 1972 to May 1973, Pad No. 3 was upgraded to enable launches of Soyuz-U and Molniya-M rockets with Yantar reconnaissance satellites and Molniya communications satellites.
In 1976, the facility was upgraded for operations with Vostok-2M rocket and launches of Meteor satellites. After a series of repairs started on April 15, 1983, the launches from Pad No. 3 resumed on Dec. 26, 1986, however on June 18, 1987, the facility was damaged again in a botched launch of a Soyuz rocket.
Launches of Soyuz-U and Molniya-M rockets from Pad 3 ceased in 2002 after yet another launch accident on October 15 of that year.
In June 2013, the official publication of the Ministry of Defense promised the start the refurbishment of the launch pad for Soyuz-2-1a and Soyuz-2-1b rockets in the first half of 2014. (654) By the end of 2016, the Ministry of Defense announced that in the course of refurbishment, 26 existing facilities had been upgraded and 72 new structures had been built at the site.
All the work at Pad 3 was promised to be completed by 2017 and the first test launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket from the renovated pad was promised at the beginning of 2017. However by the end of 2018, the completion of the pad refurbishment was promised in the first quarter of 2019. Soon thereafter, a Soyuz-2-1b rocket was expected to carry a GLONASS-M satellite into orbit.
By that time, military officials in Plesetsk also listed the development of the residential infrastructure as part of the effort to support Soyuz-2 operations in Plesetsk. According to the Head of the test range Nikolai Nesterchuk, quoted by TASS on Oct. 18, 2019, the re-development project included the construction of 96 new buildings and facilities and repairs of a clinic and a medical office, as well as the construction of a residential building with 96 apartments and the indoor ice arena.
The first Soyuz-2-1b rocket lifted off from the renovated Pad 3 on December 11, 2019.
Pad 4 ("Right" pad)
A Soyuz-2-1a rocket with Meridian No. 7 satellite is being erected on Pad No. 4 at Site 43 in Plesetsk in October 2014.
On July 25, 1967, Pad No. 4 hosted its first actual launch of the R-7 ballistic missile, which followed a suborbital trajectory to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The first space rocket lifted off from Pad No. 4 on Dec. 3, 1969, carrying a Zenit-type reconnaissance satellite, which successfully entered orbit under an official name of Kosmos-313. From February 1975 to September 1976, Pad No. 4 and associated infrastructure was upgraded to support launches of the Yantar reconnaissance satellites.
On March 18, 1980, at 20:01:00 Moscow Time, during fueling of the Vostok-2M (8A92) launcher with a Tselina-D electronic intelligence satellite at Pad No. 4, while 141 members of military personnel were working at the pad, the launcher exploded, killing 48 people. (The actual liftoff was scheduled for 21:16 Moscow Time). A monument commemorating the tragedy was unveiled nearby on July 15, 1999 and on December 11 of the same year, the Russian government commission formally rehabilitated members of the launch team, who were initially blamed for the accident.
In the wake of the deadly accident, Pad No. 4 was shot down for three years of repairs and fire-safety upgrades. A training rocket was rolled out to the site for fitting tests on Dec. 20-23, 1982. The first post-accident launch from the site took place on April 8, 1983.
Tests were officially concluded with the resumption of launches from the site on March 21, 1984. Still, a serious accident at Pad No. 4 took place on June 25 or July 27, 1988, when a Soyuz launcher crashed between just 100 and 160 meters from the pad, damaging the facility.
Since the beginning of the 1990's, Pad No. 4 (a.k.a. 17P32-4 or SK-4) at Site 43 has been chosen for launches of the upgraded Rus (Soyuz-2) booster, however severe financial problems have delayed the actual construction until 2001. Associated processing facilities were upgraded for handling the Fregat upper stage employed on the Soyuz-2 rocket. On May 12 of the same year, the military unit, which serviced the facility was formally reassigned from Strategic Missile Forces, RVSN, to the Space Forces.
The first Soyuz-2 was finally launched from the launch facility renamed 17P32-S4 in 2004. The same pad was also adopted for the Soyuz-2-1v (Soyuz-1) rocket, which was rolled to the facility for the first time in 2012. Soyuz-2-1v successfully lifted off for the first time on Dec. 28, 2013, from Pad No. 4.
Launch facilities for space vehicles based on the R-7 ballistic missile:
A launch pad for the R-7-based launch vehicles in Plesetsk.
Soyuz-2-1v rocket launch on July 10, 2019, carried an insignia dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the Military Unit No. 14056, which serviced dual launch pad complex at Site 43 in Plesetsk. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense
A Soyuz-2-1b rocket with GLONASS-K No. 15 satellite shortly after its rollout on the launch pad in Plesetsk on Oct. 22, 2020. Click to enlarge. Credit: Russian Ministry of Defense