Road to the Stars
Everyone in the country has followed the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome – and that is not an overstatement
Regular news broadcasts have reported on the successes and problems at this enormous construction site, which appeared as if it would never be finished. Through the efforts of thousands of specialists the most modern spaceport in the world was built in the middle of the deep taiga. People have been waiting to hear the phrase: ‘Launch! Ignition! Liftoff!’ for long four years.
April 28, 2016 at 5:01 a.m. Moscow time was the beginning of a new stage in the development of Russia’s space industry. The Vostochny Spaceport opened at the deafening roar of a Soyuz-2.1a booster rocket’s engines. The successful launch was the culmination of the titanic job of thousands of specialists from the entire country. The rocket launch took more than four years to be prepared. Over this time the world’s most modern spaceport was built in the middle of the Amur taiga.
The spaceport features all necessary infrastructure: launch assemblies, an industrial construction site, water and power supplies, telecommunications facilities, roads and railways, security systems, even the new city of Tsiolkovsky, where the specialists are housed. In total, 115 km of roads and 125 km of railroads were built. Over 500 buildings and structures that can withstand strong seismic pressures were erected.
A decision on a cosmic scale
The public became widely aware of the construction of the spaceport on August 28, 2010, when Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister at the time, visited the settlement of Uglegorsk. Strategic safety concerns necessitated construction of a Russian spaceport that could launch heavy rockets.
Leasing the Baikonur Cosmodrome costs over 6 billion rubles a year, and Kazakhstan has suspended multiple launches for various reasons. Furthermore, the infrastructure at Baikonur has become significantly outdated and needs to be fully modernized for the new Angara rocket systems.
The choice of construction site was based on intensive research. The most important selection criteria were the possibility for uninhibited launch of booster rockets and a favorable location. Having the proper flight path can knock off up to 30% of the overall cost of launching a rocket. The initial flight path of a booster rocket can’t be near densely populated areas or over foreign lands. Furthermore, the pieces that separate from booster rockets during its flight must fall in sparsely populated regions of Russia or in neutral waters.
Despite of a few difficulties, Uglegorsk was a perfect match for these requirements. Construction of the facility had to begin in the taiga in a place practically devoid of anything. Roads, an airfield and a new city also needed to be built. But the decision had been made: the spaceport was on!
An engineering wonder
The numbers best tell the story of the job the creators pulled off. During the peak construction period, over 8,000 construction workers were working on the Vostochny building site and operated about 1,000 pieces of state-of-the-art machinery. The work was carried out in two shifts without weekends or holidays. Workers labored in conditions ranging from the chill of minus 40 degrees to heat of about 40 degrees.
Dozens of buildings and structural works were erected at the launch facility, which covers over 90 hectares. 2.7 km of road and over 7.2 km of railroad track was laid. All the structures are connected by underground communication tunnels, which extend more than 6 km altogether. The facilities were built with extra durability so that they can withstand even the most extreme pressure.
About 160,000 cubic meters of concrete was laid and over 31,000 tons of rebar was installed. High density is a special «start» characteristic of the building reinforcements. A stronger reinforcement cage made with bent rebar was developed for the fire ring.
Many complex jobs were performed in extreme weather conditions, which necessitated the use of special technologies. To keep the concrete-hardening technology viable during the pouring of the concrete for the launch area, makeshift «heaters» crafted with the help of hot-air blowers and electrical curing devices maintained the required temperature. Due to the cold, the machines frequently broke down, but people kept on working.
Main construction projects in this section were the assembly and testing facility for booster rockets and spacecraft (launch vehicles, satellite vehicles, etc), the fueling and neutralization station and the transfer gallery that were built implementing the most contemporary technologies. All necessary engineering infrastructure and a fire station were established.
The assembly and testing facility is a cutting-edge collection of workshops that covers an area of over 39,000 square meters. The installation and testing bays feature a special microclimate: a temperature of 18-25 degrees Celsius and 80% humidity. These conditions are created by modern heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. The ventilation devices in the installation department alone – in an area of 9,000 square meters – process over 1 million cubic meters of air per hour.
A special coating was put on the floors of the rooms in the technical complex, which covers an area of 45,000 square meters. The conductive, anti-static floors protect the highly sensitive electronic machinery from the impacts of electrostatic energy. The floors are subject to special requirements. They have to withstand the weight of a booster rocket. For that, 360 pilings were installed up to 8 meters deep with each pair supporting a 40-ton load.
Engineering communications and specialized systems were laid in the technologic channels, with an overall length of 3.5 km.
About 20 cargo-lifting machines were installed at the technical complex, including 100-ton bridge cranes mounted 20 meters high, which are used for unloading and assembling booster rockets.
The complex for measuring, collecting and processing data includes an integrated tech module, 18 pylons that contain instruments for data measurement, collection and processing, and an 85-meter-high adjustable tower and shelter.
The facilities at the Vostochny Cosmodrome are equipped with engineering communications. Heat, water, power, ventilation and sewer systems are all at the disposal of end-users. The energy plant built at Vostochny can supply a city of half a million inhabitants with electricity.
The second stage of construction at the spaceport is underway and is expected to be finished by 2021. The area around the spaceport is being developed simultaneously. A cluster of scientific, industrial, residential and tourism sites is under construction. The science commune of Tsiolkovsky is being built at an enormous pace. Numerous high-rises are already finished, and the occupants have already settled in. But the most active development stage will begin after October 31.
Two launches are planned next year at the brand new spaceport, the only one for civilian use in Russia. Roskosmos head Igor Komarov said two Kanopus series satellites and a Meteor weather observation satellite will be launched into space in 2017, while in 2018 the conveyor will become operational. Plans call for six to eight launches annually from Vostochny Cosmodrome while there is the potential to have ten launches a year.