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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also space center), a complex of buildings, equipment, and ground sites designed for the accommodation, assembly, prelaunch preparation, and launching of space rockets. Some cosmodromes include a tracking station of the ground control and instrumentation complex and ground sites onto which burned-out rocket stages fall. The main facilities at a cosmodrome are the field assembly area and the launch complex. Auxiliary areas and services include tracking stations with cinetheodolite equipment and radio systems for measuring the parameters of the initial flight phases, particularly the powered trajectory; computer services for calculating mission profiles and trajectories; an area for storage of fuel components; sometimes plants for the production of liquid oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen; a power system (central heating and electric power plants, power plants, transformer substations, and transmission lines); a housing area, with administrative offices, a training center, and a group of commercial and cultural facilities; a water-supply system; a communications and television system; maintenance and supply facilities; an airfield; and access roads and transportation facilities, including a railroad junction.

Field assembly area. The field assembly area is a complex of buildings with general-purpose and specialized equipment and with access roads; it is used for the reception, storage, and assembly of space and launch vehicles, for testing and fueling, and for mating the space vehicle to the launch vehicle. The field assembly area also includes buildings for assembly and testing of launch and space vehicles, a fueling area for space vehicles, a receiver-equipped compressor station, an electric power or transformer substation, and service buildings. For solid-propellant booster stages, the field assembly area may also include an initial storage area for the boosters, an inspection building, a storage area for boosters ready for firing, and a building for assembly and mating of solid-propellant boosters. Stages and components of the launch vehicle are sent to the launch-vehicle assembly building; sometimes the final welding operations on large booster sections are performed there to avoid transporting large assembled launch-vehicle stages. Two main methods are used to assemble launch vehicles: horizontal assembly of individual stages and of the launch vehicle as a whole, followed by mating of a spacecraft, or vertical assembly of individual stages, assembly of the entire launch vehicle, and the mating to the launch vehicle of a space vehicle, which is suspended vertically from a mobile section of the launch pedestal. The first method is more common. For liquid-fuel launch vehicles using solid-propellant boosters, two assembly and testing buildings are constructed: one for the liquid-fuel rocket and the other for assembling the solid-propellant booster and mating it to the liquid-fuel rocket.

After assembly of a launch vehicle, it undergoes independent and integrated tests. The space vehicle is assembled and tested at the same time. Testing equipment also includes altitude chambers for testing the seal of the space vehicle or its individual components under high-vacuum conditions. Space vehicles are fueled at the fueling facility of the field assembly area. They receive cryogenic fuel components (oxygen, hydrogen, fluorine, ammonia, and so on) on the launching pad. From the fueling facility the space vehicle is moved to the assembly and testing building, where it is mated to the launch vehicle. After the mating has been checked, the rocket is transported to the launch site.

Launch complex. The launch complex is an aggregation of specialized equipment, buildings containing general-purpose equipment, and specially prepared ground sites with the access roads required for the transportation of a space rocket to the launch complex, its erection on the launch pedestal, testing, fueling, and launching. The specialized facilities of a launch complex include the launcher, the launch control center, fuel component storage tanks and equipment for fueling the space and launch vehicles, a transformer substation and a reserve diesel-powered electric power plant, and refrigeration units or a cold-storage facility. A launch complex may have several launching pads (see Table 1).

At the launch site a transporter-erector lifts the rocket into a vertical position and lowers it onto the launch pedestal. Stationary erectors are constructed next to the launch pedestal; a rail-road transporter-erector platform on which the rocket lies moves onto the erector arm and is raised to a vertical position along with it. The launch pedestal receives the rocket, aligns it vertically, and holds it in position. It also provides the necessary electrical, fueling, pneumatic, and drainage connections, as well as the rocket’s actual launch. Launch pedestals may have umbilical towers, mechanisms for electric and pneumatic connections, and fuel-feed and drainage connections. There are two types of umbilical towers, fixed and fall-away. Umbilical towers sometimes perform the functions of service facilities. Mobile tank trucks are used at launch complexes that do not have their own fixed fueling facilities. The fuel components are usually metered automatically according to readings of the fuel-level sensors in the rocket’s tanks. Flow meters are also used. For fueling with compressed gas, the supply facilities may use high-pressure air compressors, helium compressors, and liquid nitrogen converters with high-compression displacement pumps. The temperature of the fuel is controlled before fueling to ensure a permissible difference in the oxidizer and fuel temperatures, the maximum and minimum temperatures of fuel components entering the rocket motor, the necessary fuel density, and supercooling of the fuel’s cryogenic components. Supercooling continues for the en-tire period that the rocket rests on the launch pedestal. If super-cooling is not used, automatic replenishment of fuel compensates for evaporation of the fuel components. All operations in preparation for fueling (including storage), as well as the fueling process itself, are usually carried out automatically. The cosmonauts board the space vehicle after both it and the launch vehicle have been fueled. All prelaunch operations are recorded on the launch-control panel by a set of readiness annunciators. When all systems are ready the command is given, and the automatic launch sequence is begun.

The first artificial earth satellite was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome (USSR). Outside the USSR, space vehicles have been launched by the USA from Vandenberg Air Force Base (California), Cape Canaveral (Florida), and Wallops Island (Virginia); by France from Hamaguir (Algeria) and Kourou (French Guiana); by Italy from San Marco (off the coast of Kenya); by Japan from Uchinoura; by the People’s Republic of China from Ch’angchiang; and by Great Britain from Woomera (Australia).


Kosmonavtika. Moscow, 1970. ( Malen ’kaia entsiklopediia.)
Aviation Week, 1965, vol. 83, no. 1, pp. 36–37 and 41–43; 1966, vol. 84, no. 25, pp. 71–182.
Hydraulics and Pneumatics, 1967, vol. 20, no. 12, pp. 90–93.
Mechanical Engineering, 1969, vol. 91, nos. 6–10.
Spaceflight,\91\, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 61–65.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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