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Vostochny Cosmodrome First Launch - The Spaceport, What Was Launched, What Next

A firsthand account

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

This report of the first launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome was written by the editor of the science section of one of the most popular newspapers in Russia

... Before this first and probably most important launch over last two decades in Russian space history, I had visited the Vostochny Cosmodrome several times. I slipped on dirty puddles around steel pins that should have been concreted. I saw a cardboard door with a scribbled note from before the visit of a Moscow commission: “Give our salaries back!” Finally, paved roads appeared, a "space" style administrative building, houses for engineers in the town with a new name – Tsiolkovsky. Then a proud mobile service tower that looked like a gigantic nesting box. Finally, workers dirty with mud and paint gave way to people wearing bright vests with insignias of famous space enterprises…

Walking around the huge Assembly and Testing Facility where they can assemble and simultaneously prepare for launch four Soyuz rockets, I thought it was sad that the story of such a spaceport started with a series of scandals and jailing of swindlers. I also thought it was good that they didn’t persist in launching the rocket only when everything had been checked for the third time (or more). Finally, they gave up the Soviet tradition of timing "gifts" to Communist Party Congresses or revolutionary dates.

The rocket Soyuz-2.1A a few days before the launch. Photo: ROSCOSMOS

Why this launch is so unique

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is the smartest and most up-to-date spaceport in the world. We really have something to be proud of. Here are the most important things:

- We used a mobile service tower to work with the rocket on the launching platform. Something like that was built at the Kourou Spaceport in French Guiana. But the tower of the Vostochny is more up to date in terms of equipment. The installation crew in Baikonur had to assemble the rocket in the open air, in hot, humid weather, or in frost, temperatures that are comfortable for the experts in the Vostochny Cosmodrome. But that’s not all – there are many automatic controls in the tower.  

- The new fueling system.

- Automation of support equipment control.

"We check everything manually, by sight, in Baikonur," Deputy of Director General of Operations Andrei Okhlopkov explained. “But here we control of all processes with automatic controls – from fueling to launch”.  

- There is a transporter bridge, a special gallery that connects the buildings that enables details of rockets and satellites to move from one building to the other, without changing ambient temperature. There are assembly buildings located all over the spaceport territory and bringing the parts of rocket and vehicles to one place to assemble them – is a real headache for engineers from all over the world.

- The launch control checkpoint also looks new: it’s fully automated. All data on rockets, load, weather conditions and a dozen other characteristics are displayed on the crew’s screen. The automatic controls evaluate compliance, rocket preparation and how the systems operate during flight.

- The rocket Soyuz-2.1A is also an innovation. Soyuz-2 rockets are digital. A new computer management system increased the precision of loading into orbit, rocket stability and controllability, and enabled increased payloads. Before, satellites or spacecraft had the same diameter of a rocket or little larger. Now Soyuz carries larger-sized vehicles. Video cameras were installed for the first time in the first rocket to be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with real-time images before launch and during placement of the load into orbit.  

- A "student" launch. Three student satellites will be launched from the Vostochny Cosmodrome — the Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite built by the Lomonosov Moscow State University, Nanosatellite SamSat-218 and land remote sensing satellite Aist-2D built in Samara. On the one hand, they used students’ work for test launch because they feel less sorry for them than for others – saying, they will build other ones. On the other hand, these are serious vehicles that will be helpful when they are placed into orbit.

Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite — the first space project in the country that was financed by an educational institution. Students didn’t design the satellite; employees from the All-Russian Research and Development Institute of Electronic Mechanics did. "Lomonosov" has seven detector elements for studying extreme physical phenomena in the atmosphere, near-Earth space, and the Universe. The main "customer" of  the Lomonosov scientific program is the Research and Development Institute for nuclear physics. Universities of South Korea, Denmark, Norway, Spain, Mexico and the USA will process the data received by the satellite, which weighs about 620 kg.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome - the smartest and most up-to-date spaceport in the world. Photo: ROSCOSMOS

The Nanosatellite SamSat-218 was built at the Samara State Aerospace University. It weighs only 4 kg and measures 10x34 sm. Future space engineers will learn how to control space objects using this device. SamSat-218 will be connected to the GlobalStar mobile satellite communications system. It will be possible to use a mobile phone on board to receive telemetered data.

Aist-2D. Students and scientists from Samara State Aerospace University also took part in the design together with designers from the Progress State Research and Production Rocket Space Center (where Soyuz rockets are built). Aist-2D is a land remote sensing satellite with unique characteristics. It can detect not only that what is visible on the Earth’s surface. Using a special radar it can look deep inside. For example, if the satellite is examining a forest, it will be able to receive images of what happens under the treetops. The "examination depth" in a desert is dozens of meters, for a weight of about 500 kg.


Despite the holiday mood, I haven’t noticed people celebrating after the launch…as celebrating is understood here in Russia – with a big festive table, toasts and three loud cheers.

After the successful launch, I got to the launching platform. Everybody was busy with the launch pad, the back masts and restraints that had been holding Soyuz just a while ago.  

The head of the Roscosmos State Corporation, Igor Komarov, looked fresh after a sleepless night. The Rector of Moscow State University, Victor Sadovnichy, walked around with a proud look. His Mikhailo Lomonosov satellite is the Soyuz-2.1A’s principal load. He was even more pleased when a message came that the upper-stage rocket Volga, having placed the satellites into orbit, successfully separated from them.

I asked him if they would give awards those who took part in the successful launch. He squinted, apparently, from bright sunshine:  

- Weren’t the President’s thanks enough?

However, service medals for the participants of the first launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome were being struck.  

Komarov also explained why yesterday’s launch had been cancelled. With just two minutes to launch, the automatic controls failed to receive confirmation on the normal operation of one of the rocket’s systems and disengaged. Experts discovered that the system was operating normally. It was the cable that transmitted the information that failed. They changed overnight the cable and "everything around it – just in case" . 

…Komarov told me this was the 1860th successful launch of a Soyuz carrier rocket. But the Vostochny is taking a break: the next launch is a year away. The successful start proved that the launching platform is ready; however, it was decided to consider it a test. Igor Anatolyevich said: “Designers and engineers made about 20 recommendations to improve the spaceport system”.

Vladimir Putin after the launch approached the workers who constructed the Vostochny Cosmodorme. Photo: Mikhail Metsel /ТАSS


THE TECHNICAL AREA is designed to prepare the launch, including fueling.

In 121 buildings totaling 170,000 square meters can accommodate 1,800 workers. Constructions, utilities and transportation lines are located in a 42-hectare area.

THE ASSEMBLY AND TESTING FACILITY OF THE CARRIER ROCKET is designed for equipment, assembling, incoming inspection and separate and integrated tests of the carrier rocket. It maintains a precisely preset temperature and humidity. The total area of the building is almost 45,000 square meters, and the height is 37 m.

THE SPACECRAFT ASSEMBLY AND TESTING FACILITY where space vehicles, upper-stage and launching units are prepared and tested. The assembly of the space ascent unit is carried out here requiring the highest air purity.

LAUNCH SITE – 83 buildings of total area of 45,000 square meters. Up to 270 people can work here simultaneously.

THE INDUSTRIAL AND CONSTRUCTION BASE – repair and engineering works, warehouse, highway authority, checkpoint, administrative and amenity building, 34,000 square meters in total.  

THE TOWN OF TSIOLKOVSKY.  12,000 people will live here, drive their children to four kindergartens and two schools. There will be sports complexes, malls, cafes, restaurants and parking areas. The town is being built in two stages: at first for 7,000, then for 5,000 more.

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