June 2, 1955
Owner / Operator:
90 m (300 ft)
Baikonur Cosmodrome is the world’s oldest and largest operational space launch facility. The facility played host to the launch of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 and the first manned mission to space, Vostok 1. Additionally, all crewed Soyuz missions are launched from Baikonur making it the only location on Earth currently launching crews to space (as of 2018).
The Cosmodrome was originally built by the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. The facility was first used as a test centre for the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). However, Baikonur was quickly expanded to include a number of launch facilities to support missions to space. Over the next 40 years, the area would be developed into the world’s most extensive launch facility with over 70 individual launch pads, two airports, and a considerable rail network. To support the facility and the people who worked there, a supporting town was built providing housing, schools and infrastructure.
With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan declared independence from Russia and ownership of the Baikonur Cosmodrome fell to the newly minted country. That same year, Russia signed a deal to lease the land on which the facility was built for $115 million a year for 20 years. Although there was an option to extend for an additional 10-year period, Russia wanted a more permanent solution requesting a 99-year lease. The two parties compromised signing a deal that extended Russia’s lease to 2050. Today, Baikonur Cosmodrome is operated jointly by Roscosmos and the Russian Aerospace Forces.
Over the years, Baikonur Cosmodrome has been the primary launch site for a number of rockets developed by Russia. In addition to just about every Soyuz variant ever conceived, the facility has played host to the disastrous N1 moon rocket and the ill-fated Buran spaceplane program. Currently, though, only the Soyuz-2, Soyuz-FG, Zenit-3F and Proton-M rockets are launched from Baikonur.