The Plesetsk Cosmodrome, for many years (1969-1993) the busiest launch facility in the world, is located in northwestern Russia, about 400 miles northeast of St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad). The 1762-km square cosmodrome is supported by the adjacent town of Mirny. Although capable of launching Korolev's R-7 ICBM beginning in 1960, Plesetsk did not perform its first space launch until 1966. It has been the port of debarkation for over 1,300 launches, or more than a third of all orbital or planetary mission launches from all other launch sites in the world combined. It continues to be the world's busiest launch facility. It is mainly a military launch facility, typically used to deliver most (if not all) polar orbiting sensor payloads, and many Molniya orbit payloads. From its northern latitude(~63 degrees N), space missions have been restricted to orbital inclinations between 63 degrees and 83 degrees. The high inclination of the Molniya communications satellites is a natural result of an eastward launch from Plesetsk. This site is on Russian soil and the launch flight profile does not pass over any other countries during the boost phase. The requirements for coordination with other countries are minimal. There are launch pads for the SL4, SL6, SL8 and SL14 space launch vehicles. Launches of the SL3 and SL11 could be conducted , if necessary. The extreme northern latitude of this facility has provided Russia with valuable experience in the conduct of extreme cold weather launch operations and launch vehicle design.
Plesetsk supports four launch vehicle types: Kosmos-3M, Soyuz/Molnlya, Tskylon-3, and Start. Kosmos-3M can be launched from any of three launch pads (Complexes 132 left and right and 133). Soyuz/Molniya launch vehicles are supported by three active pads (Complexes 16 and 43 left and right), while a fourth pad (Complex 41) is in mothballs. The Tsyklon launch facilities include two active launch pads (Complexes 32 left and right). Start launches, which began in 1993, are conducted by the Strategic Missile Forces rather than the Military Space Forces from the fixed RS-12M launch facilities at site 158.
Construction was underway in 1994 on Complex 35 to permit Zenit launches by 1997. Eventually, the heavy-lift Angara launch vehicle may use this same complex. Rus and Rokot launches are expected from Plesetsk. Despite its important role in the Russian space program, not until 11 November 1994 was Plesetsk granted the title First State Testing Cosmodrome (References 415-422).
Unlike many space launch facilities in the World, both Baikonur and Plesetsk are not directly situated on or near a coast. Consequently, the lower, sub-orbital stages of USSR/CIS boosters normally fall back on former Soviet territory. This situation limits the permissible launch azimuths to avoid impacts near populated or foreign regions, e.g., due east launches (the most advantageous) from Baikonur are forbidden since lower rocket stages would fall on Chinese territory. For those launch corridors which are used, tens othousands of tons of spent boosters, many with toxic residual propellants still on board, now litter the countryside. Steps are underway around both Baikonur and Plesetsk to mitigate the situation, but the problem remains monumental.
415. B. Morozov, "Plesetsk", Aviatsiya I Kosmonavtika, June 1993, pp.40-41.
416. G. Mashtakova, Rossiva, 14-20 July 1993, p.9.
417. V. Romanenkova and S. Ivanov, Segodnya, 17 March 1994, p.9.
418. Rossivskava Gazeta,6 March 1994, p.4.
419. M. Kirtser, Kommersant Daily, 16 April 1994, p.22.
420. K. Lantratov, Novosti Kosmonavtiki, 12-25 February 1994, pp.41-45.
421. A Stepovoy and V. Filippov, Izvestiya, 6 October 1994, p.4.
422. K. Lantratov, Novosti Kosmonavtiki, 3-16 December 1994, pp.30-31.