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Baikonur Cosmodrome

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Baikonur Cosmodrome is the location of the first Soviet triumphs in space, and today, remains the world’s busiest space launch facility serving the Russian, American, European and other national and commercial space programs. 1 Construction of the facility began on the Kazakh steppe in 1955. Originally, it was a testing ground for the Soviet ICBM program. 2 The name Baikonur was chosen purposefully to deceive the West as to the true location of the then top secret facility. The Cosmodrome was built adjacent to Tyuratam, Kazakhstan; while the small mining town of Baikonur is located 200 miles south of the facility. 3 The world’s first ICBM, the R-7 (service version deployed in 1959: R-7A Semyorka, 8K71; (NATO : SS-6 Sapwood), was first successfully launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome on 21 August 1957. 4 The Soviet Union launched Sputnik-1, the world’s first artificial satellite, from a modified R-7 at Baikonur on 4 October 1957 and the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, on Vostok-3KA rocket on 12 April 1961. 5

Over time the facility expanded to include numerous launch pads, silos, fuel production and storage facilities, research, technical and support facilities, and two airports all connected by the world’s largest industrial railroad. At various times, operational ICBMs, including some R-36 (NATO: SS-18) and UR-100 ICBM (NATO: SS-19) based systems were located at the site. 6 The last missile deployed at Baikonur was the R-36 Orb (Fractional Orbital Bombardment System). 7 The Soviet Union deployed 18 R-36 Orbs at Baikonur from 1969 to 1983 when the SALT-II treaty prohibited the weapon. 8

Though no missiles were deployed at Baikonur after 1983, the facility continued to operate as a military research facility and testing ground in addition to its role in the Soviet space program until 1992. 9 Upon the breakup of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan inherited the facility, but it continued to operate under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and de facto control of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Russian Strategic Rocket Forces. With the help of funding and assistance provided by the United States Government through the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, most ICBM missile silos at the site were decommissioned by 1995. 10 A few former missile silos were converted, along with the R-36 and UR-100N ICBMs, to be used for civilian space launches.

Current Status

Today several rocket systems for manned spaceflight, military and commercial space launches still operate at Baikonur including the Proton, Soyuz, Zenit, Rokot, and Dnieper rocket programs. 11 All Russian rockets used in manned space missions and International Space Station (ISS) flights are launched from Baikonur. Additionally, all Russian geostationary satellites are launched from Baikonur. 12 Today, Baikonur consists of 9 launch complexes with 15 launch pads for rockets, 4 for missile testing, 11 assembly buildings, one nitrogen/oxygen plant and numerous command and control centers, and logistical sites. 13

In 2005, Russia and Kazakhstan agreed on a contract for Russia to rent the facility until 2050. 14

Russia’s military presence at the site formally ended in 2005, but it is possible that Russia may still use this site for future military missile testing. In 2008, an aging Russian UR-100N ICBM was test launched from Baikonur as part of an ICBM extension program. 15 Should Russia extend the life of its current ICBMs even further, it is likely that performance tests would be conducted at Baikonur. While now primarily a space launch facility, many of the missile development and testing facilities at the site remain intact and reactivation is possible.


  1. “Cosmodrome Baikonur,” Russian Federal Space Agency RosCosmos, 2013, www.federalspace.ru.
  2. Anatoly Zak, “Baikonur- Origin,” Russian Space Web, 30 June 2012, www.russianspaceweb.com.
  3. Amiko Kauderer, “Space Station Assembly- Baikonur Cosmodrome,” NASA, 23 October 2010, www.nasa.gov.
  4. “Infographic: World’s First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile,” RIA Novosti, 16 May 2012, www.rianovosti.com.
  5. Федеральное космическое агентство – Роскосмос [Federal Cosmic Agency], “История советской, российской космонавтики [History of Russian and Soviet Cosmonauts],” 25 November 2013, www.federalspace.ru.
  6. Anatoly Zak, “Baikonur- R-36 Facilities,” Russian Space Web, 30 June 2012, www.russianspaceweb.com.
  7. Miroslav Gyűrösi, “The Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System Program,” Air Power Australia, April 2012, www.ausairpower.net.
  8. The United States Department of State, “SALT II: Treaty between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, Together with Agreed Statements and Common Understandings regarding the Treaty,” Vienna, 18 June 1979.
  9. Anatoly Zak, “Road to Baikonur,” Russian Space Web, 25 November 2013, www.russianspaceweb.com.
  10. US Department of Defense, “CTR Assistance – What It Does: Kazakhstan,” www.dod.mil.
  11. Russian Federal Space Agency, “Космодром Байконур [Cosmodrome Baikonur],” www.federalspace.ru.
  12. NASA, Amiko Kauderer, “Space Station Assembly- Baikonur Cosmodrome,” 23 October 2010, www.nasa.gov.
  13. “Cosmodrome Baikonur,” Russian Federal Space Agency RosCosmos, 2013, www.federalspace.ru.
  14. “Kazakhstan Finally Ratifies Baikonur Rental Deal with Russia,” RIA Novosti, 9 April 2010, http://en.rian.ru.
  15. Oleg Shchedrov, “Russia Test-Fires Old Missile to Extend Lifespan,” Reuters, 22 October 2008, www.reuters.com.


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