More on New Cosmodrome's Opening

Moscow NTV 9 Mar 97
From the "Itogi" newscast: Video report from Svobodnyy Cosmodrome by Ivan Volonikhin

[Volonikhin over video of launch site, launcher on truck] Svobodnyy Cosmodrome, this is the site from where Russian spacecraft will henceforth be launched into low orbits around the Earth. The cosmodrome is located in the Far East, approximately 200 km north of Blagoveshchensk. In the early sixties amid impassable forests and marshes the positioning area [pozitsionnyy rayon] of the easternmost 27th Division of Strategic Missile Forces was built here. In 66 silos, of which five remain today, ICBMs were deployed. And a few miles away an unprepossessing military garrison grew up. For the sake of greater secrecy it was named Uglegorsk. The order to take up alert duty was issued for the last time here in January 1994. Shortly afterward the nuclear warheads were dismantled under the START II treaty. The silos were to be destroyed, and the division disbanded. However, also during 1994 it was switched to the Russian Military Space Forces. And the 26,000 hectares became the site of the Main Center for Testing and Application of Space Systems. In March of last year President Yeltsin signed a decree on the establishment of the Svobodnyy Cosmodrome. And the first space launch was scheduled for 4 March this year. The Start- 1 space system built by the "Kompleks" scientific and technical center of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Equipment and based on the Topol ICBM, or SS-25 in Western terminology, was chosen as the launcher. In 1995 the Start-1 suffered a failure during a launch from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The current successful launch has thus rehabilitated the launcher in the eyes of those who call the tune, that is those prepared to pay for space launches. Any worries proved unsubstantiated, and the Svobodnyy premiere went successfully. And 840 seconds later a Ministry of Defense communications satellite was placed in a low solar- synchronous orbit. This means that henceforth it will always be located over the daylight side of our planet. The 87-kg Zeya satellite, named after a river which flows in the vicinity of the Svobodnyy Cosmodrome, will be used not only in Defense Ministry interests but will also carry out a number of navigational functions. Its designers at the Krasnoyarsk Applied Mechanics Scince-and-Production Association, who took only five months to build this satellite, claim that Russian scientists once again managed to outstrip the Americans by using new-generation navigational instruments on the Zeya for the first time anywhere in the world. The instruments begin to function while the launcher engines are still in operation and determine the trajectory of the launcher's flight.

[Russian Defense Council Secretary Yuriy Baturin, identified by caption] In my opinion this cosmodrome should attract the Southeast Asia space services market over the next decade. This will provide a major impetus to the development of this entire area, and of course also of our space program.

[Volonikhin] According to Baturin, Russia has no intention of giving up Baykonur in the foreseeable future. The country simply has no money to build a similar cosmodrome. However, in the longer term it will be possible to carry out all unmanned launches from Plesetsk and Svobodnyy. And for the manned space flight program, i.e. manned launches, a sea launch program is currently being elaborated. According to Baturin, both the launch platform and the spacecraft itself are already being assembled.

[Baturin to camera] I hope that we will be able to carry out manned launches from the Equator, directly from the ocean surface at the Equator.

[Volonikhin] The advocates of the Svobodnyy Cosmodrome are making no attempt to conceal its drawbacks. Specialists are citing at least three main disadvantages: the relative proximity of the border with China, remoteness from launcher and spacecraft production centers, and lack of infrastructure.

[Army General Yuriy Yashin, chairman of the State Technical Commission, identified by caption] This is a cosmodrome that is not just the technical facilities, a cosmodrome that is not just the launch pads, a cosmodrome that is also telemetry stations, computer centers, ballistic centers, and major scientific institutions, and a great deal besides.

[Yuriy Lyashko, Amur Oblast head of administration, identified by caption] Moscow is nine hours' flying time away, the Chinese border is 1,200 km away. One million people live here, and that's counting the reindeer too. Do you see? What good is a cosmodrome to Amur Oblast? How will that enhance its rating? How will Amur Oblast be viewed if it has a cosmodrome on its territory?

[Volonikhin] During every launch of a Start-1 launcher from Svobodnyy, the 6-meter first stage will be jettisoned over Amur Oblast, the second 4-meter stage will come down in Yakutia, and the third stage will fall into the Arctic Ocean.

The first space launch from Svobodnyy provoked protests from the public and the government of Yakutia. [Video shows extensive footage of interior, exterior of Svobodnyy cosmodrome and surrounding area, footage of Start-1 launcher on truck and launch pad, liftoff, spectators, interviews with Baturin, Yashin, and Lyashko, chart indicating flight path of launcher and points where the various stages will be jettisoned] [Two-minute passage omitted -- correspondent explains over video of Yakut protests that Start-1 is a solid-fuel launcher and therefore unlikely to damage the environment. Volonikhin to camera explains that the Americans want to use Start-1 in May to launch their EarlyBird satellite in May]