Baikonur Cosmodrome: a fascinating tour

19 febrero 2007

The Baikonur Cosmodrome is the oldest and largest operational space launch facility in the world. It is located in the middle of the vast Kazakh desert, where temperature ranges from -40ºC to 45°C and some peaceful camels watch the spaceships passing by.

It was from Baikonur that the first satellite to orbit the Earth was launched, and that Yuri Gagarin, the first man to orbit the Earth, was launched into space in 1961.

Since the collapse of the USSR, many areas of the Baikonur site have simply been abandoned, because the Russian government cannot afford to maintain them. Those areas which are not in use are not guarded, and this continues to result in the robbery of equipment and materials.

Besides, the surroundings of the Cosmodrome have become a kind of “spaceship junkyard", as many fuel tanks and booster stages fell back to earth before reaching orbit. Recently, the norwegian photographer Jonas Bendiksen took some amazing pictures of the areas where the supporting rockets landed, and the people who live there.

According to Aerospaceweb, after the cancellation of the Buran program, some of the spacecrafts were eventually traded to Kazakhstan to cover some russian unpaid bills. Some time ago, English Russia published the pictures of an abandoned Buran vehicle at Baikonur:

Built in 1955, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, Baikonur covers 6717 square kilometres and extends 75 kilometres from north to south and 90 kilometres from east to west. The base contains dozens of launch pads, five tracking-control centres, nine tracking stations and a 1500-kilometre rocket test range.

As you can see, spacecrafts and rockets are usually transported by train from the final assembly hangar to the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

The name Baikonur was chosen to intentionally mislead the West as to the actual location of the site by suggesting that the site was near Baikonur, a mining town about 320 kilometers northeast of the space centre in the desert area near Dzhezkazgan.

Nowadays, Russia pays $115 million annually for the use of Baikonur under an agreement that will remain in effect until 2050.

More info and sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8