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Plesetsk Cosmodrome

  • Location
    Arkhangelsk Oblast, Russian Federation
  • Type
    Missile-Base
  • Facility Status
    Operational

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History

In 1957 Plesetsk was chosen as the site for the first operational Soviet ICBM ICBM base. 1 Its location in a remote part of the Northern Russian forest was necessary because it was then one of the few parts of the Soviet Union where the world’s first ICBM, the R-7, could be based to hit targets in the United States. 2 A total of 4 R-7A ICBM launch sites were built, but these missiles required expensive launch pads and took hours to prepare for launch, so they quickly fell out of favor as new missiles were introduced. When their role as ICBM launchers ended, these R-7 launch pads began a second life as a launch complex for Soyuz rockets, a role they continue to serve today.

A 1963 decree from the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union rededicated Plesetsk as Russia’s first solid-fueled ballistic missile testing ground, and in 1967 the site became the hub for Russia’s efforts to develop solid-fueled mobile ICBMs. 3 Although operational ICBM deployments at Plesetsk ended in 1968, Plesetsk continued to be the Soviet Union’s primary launch area for polar satellites, as well as the primary facility for both developing and testing road- and rail-mobile ICBMs, and training the Strategic Rocket Forces (RVSN) to operate the missiles. 4

Current Status

Today, the Plesetsk Cosmodrome is Russia’s largest operational missile testing and space launch facility and is a critical part of Russia’s ICBM modernization and recapitalization program. 5

Plesetsk consists of three major areas:

  • Missile test range with test silos
  • Mobile ICBM missile testing & training areas for the Strategic Missile Troops and road mobile missiles
  • Space launch facility with nine launch pads

As part of the START START process, Russia confirmed the three areas, declaring Plesetsk as a Missile Test Range, a Mobile ICBM Training Facility, and a Space Launch Facility. 6

In September 2011, Russian Aerospace Defense Forces spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin announced that Russia would be investing $170 million to update the infrastructure at Plesetsk, signaling its intention to keep it in operation for the foreseeable future. 7

Glossary

Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM): A ballistic missile with a range greater than 5,500 km. See entry for ballistic missile.
Ballistic missile
A delivery vehicle powered by a liquid or solid fueled rocket that primarily travels in a ballistic (free-fall) trajectory.  The flight of a ballistic missile includes three phases: 1) boost phase, where the rocket generates thrust to launch the missile into flight; 2) midcourse phase, where the missile coasts in an arc under the influence of gravity; and 3) terminal phase, in which the missile descends towards its target.  Ballistic missiles can be characterized by three key parameters - range, payload, and Circular Error Probable (CEP), or targeting precision.  Ballistic missiles are primarily intended for use against ground targets.
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I, II, & III)
Refers to negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russian Federation, held between 1982 and 1993 to limit and reduce the numbers of strategic offensive nuclear weapons in each country’s nuclear arsenal. The talks culminated in the 1991 START I Treaty, which entered into force in December 1994, and the 1993 START II Treaty. Although START II was ratified by the two countries, it never entered into force. In 1997, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin discussed the possibility of a START III treaty to make further weapons reductions, but negotiations resulted in a stalemate. Following the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) in 2002, Russia declared START II void. START I expired on 5 December 2009, and was followed by the New START treaty. See entries for New START and the Trilateral Statement. For additional information, see the entries for START I, START II, and New START

Sources

  1. Anatoly Zak, “Centers: Plesetsk,” Russian Space Web, 17 June 2013. www.russianspaceweb.com.
  2. Pavel Podvig, ed., Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2001), p. 122.
  3. The Soviet Land-Based Ballistic Missile Program, 1945-1972, National Security Agency, www.archives.gov.
  4. Anatoly Zak, “Centers: Plesetsk,” Russian Space Web, 17 June 2013, www.russianspaceweb.com.
  5. “A Guided Tour of Plesetsk, Russia’s Only Space Center,” RIA Novosti, 30 August 2011, http://en.ria.ru.
  6. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, “The New Start Treaty: Hearings Before the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Responses of Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton to Questions Submitted by Senator Lugar,” Submitted to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 29 April 2010, www.gpo.gov.
  7. “Russia to Sink $170 Mln into Plesetsk Space Center,” RIA Novosti, 7 September 2011, http://en.ria.ru.

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