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Space The Military Science

The Story of Baikonur, Russia's Space City 237

eldavojohn writes "There's an article up on Physorg about Russian space launch city Baikonur, rented by Russia from Kazakhstan. Although it is essentially the same as it was in the 60's and 70's, it is amazingly efficient and still operational. 'Even the technology hasn't changed much. The Soyuz spacecraft designed in the mid-1960s is still in service, somewhat modified. It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable. Life and work in Baikonur and its cosmodrome are also pretty much what they were in the Soviet era. The town of 70,000 - unbearably hot in summer, freezing cold in winter and dusty year round - is isolated by hundreds of miles of scrubland.'" We last discussed Baikonur back in 2005.
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The Story of Baikonur, Russia's Space City

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  • Soviet Russia (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Stormx2 ( 1003260 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:06PM (#21067553)
    I know this may be a little controversial, but can we just skip all the "In Soviet Russia..." jokes? Regulars don't find them funny. They're only modded up by people who've just got mod points for the first time and want to fit in. Come on, be original!
  • "The Soyuz spacecraft designed in the mid-1960s is still in service, somewhat modified. It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable"

    Each shuttle mission costs a half-billion to launch. So many systems have to be rebuilt and retested that it would be cheaper to make them throw-away.

    For example, by the time the shuttle engines are on the launch pad, they've been rebuilt pretty much from scratch and retested, which takes up almost 90% of their rated lifetime. Like a race car engine that has to be rebuilt every 750 miles, but is test for 675 miles before the race ...

    Saying the shuttle is re-usable without looking at the real costs is ignoring reality.

  • Re:Soviet Russia (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:15PM (#21067631)
    You do realize that requests like this are about as effective here as on the playground in elementary school? "Stop doing X" is seen as an invitation to "Do more of X" by people who want to annoy you. And there is no shortage of people who want to do that. :)
  • by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:16PM (#21067639) Homepage Journal
    I mentioned the same above and have been doing some more digging. This popular mechanics interview with Greg Olsen [] was interesting. Here is the part that got it to pop up in my search:

    PM: Soyuz costs $50 million a mission--the space shuttle costs more than $2.5 billion to get back up, and under the best conditions it costs $500 million ...
    GO: That's tough. Remember, we could not have built the ISS without the shuttle. The shuttle has a huge cargo-carrying capacity. The Soyuz cannot do that, as reliable as it is. The shuttle has had its drawbacks, but it is the workhorse, and it was necessary in order to do the ISS.

    They give more about cost - and he gives one view about the shuttle's capacity that adds a different perspective.
  • by maxume ( 22995 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:27PM (#21067679)
    I dare, nay, double dare you to fit Hubble into a Soyuz capsule: []

    The Shuttle is probably a stupid way to put people in orbit, but that isn't all it is used for.
  • Re:Costs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by tilandal ( 1004811 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:34PM (#21067715)
    The shuttle is much larger and can carry far more of a payload. The shuttle can carry up to 24,400 kg to low earth orbit, that is substantially more then the Soyuz can carry. Many of the segments of the ISS were only able to be lifted into orbit with the Shuttle.
  • by ceejayoz ( 567949 ) <> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:36PM (#21067735) Homepage Journal
    Of course, that argument requires the assumption that we couldn't possibly make something with similar carrying capacity to the shuttle for cheaper than $500 million to $2.5 billion per launch.

    The Saturn V had the ability to lift 118,000 kg to low earth orbit, to the Space Shuttle's 24,400 kg - and that at a similar cost per launch.

    The Delta IV can lift up to about the Space Shuttle's capacity at $250 million a launch. The Russian Proton-M can lift a little less than the Shuttle at $100 million a launch. There are plenty of alternatives to the Shuttle for launching large payloads.
  • Re:Soviet Russia (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Neon Aardvark ( 967388 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:48PM (#21067793) Homepage

    I'm a regular, and I think "In Soviet Russia" jokes are funny precisely because they are so pointless and unfunny, just like the CowboyNeal poll options.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:51PM (#21067811) Homepage Journal
    It seems rather fashionable to knock the Space Shuttle - it's expensive, it was overhyped, putting the thing on the side of the tank is a design mistake, and the tiles are a maintenance nightmare. It's easy to knock the Shuttle and demand a retreat to older style systems, and I've done it. But the more and more I think about it, the more I think, junking the shuttle and the approach of the orbital space plane is a huge mistake.

    We are all aware of the negatives of the shuttle, but let's look at some of the positives of this system. First and foremost, the interior of the space shuttle is -huge- compared to the interior of a Soyuz, or for that matter, any other manned space craft. The Soyuz can bring up 2 or 3 astronauts, while shuttle missions with 6 or 7 are not uncommon. The Soyuz, the Apollo and the nascent Orion are essentially ballistic nosecones with people stuffed in it. The space shuttle has a habital volume, for its crew compartment alone, of over 70 cubic meters. The soyuz, on the other hand, has a habital volume of just 7 cubic meters. Astronauts in these capsules basically sit in their chairs, but in the shuttle they can get up, move around, and do things. The space shuttle is practically a space station in its own right.

    The space shuttle has a cargo bay, and, thanks to the Canadians, has a really cool mechanical arm. The cargo bay can be pressurized for even more space, or it can contain additional research facilities. Have we forgotten that the European Space Agency has flown a science station in the space shuttle cargo bay already? Have we forgotten about the repairs made to Hubble? The Space Shuttle can and has repaired other satellites, and right now, is the ONLY SYSTEM that can bring them back a largish cargo from space to earth.

    Everyone seems to like knocking NASA, cheering on the likes of Burt Rutan and the X-Prize in hopes for some private sector miracle, but I've not seen any private sector initiative, from scratch, put so much as a suitcase into orbit, certainly not a man, and nothing like the space shuttle. Those fancy suborbital flights are a joke - 3000mph requires a fraction of the total kinetic energy to attain the orbital velocity of over 17000mph. Let me know when anyone, really, anyone builds something as cool as the shuttle...and the thing is, when we're back to tiny capsules for manned space flight, when the naysayers win and the shuttles are tossed off to museums, everyone is going to compare the capsule to the shuttle and say geez, by far, the shuttle was the cooler thing, and the capsule is a step backwards, not forward, and that our next space ship should have been a newer version of the shuttle, not a rehashed capsule.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:16PM (#21067953) Homepage Journal
    I dare, nay, double dare you to fit Hubble into a Soyuz capsule:

    Why would you want to?

    Launch cargo(like satellites) on cargo rockets. Life people in capsules designed for people.

    As others have pointed out, there are a number of rockets capable of lifting a similar payload as the shuttle - for half the launch cost of the shuttle.

    I've seen figures of $500 million for a shuttle launch, $50M for a soyuz(including the capsule), $250 for the Delta IV.

    That means we can duplicate the shuttle for about three launches - 2 soyuz(a shuttle can hold more people) $100M total, and a Delta IV for $250M. This totals $350M, leaving me 150M off the launch costs alone to use for other purposes. Like building a space station that's actually useful.

    For rather less than the cost of a shuttle, you should be able to design a 'soyuz/apollo heavy' capable of lifting the same number of people as the shuttle.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:39PM (#21068065)
    Why would you want to launch the Hubble from the Shuttle? Use a Titan IV.
  • by confused one ( 671304 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:59PM (#21068179)
    I don't knock the shuttle generally. It's a fantastic machine. Everything you say about it is true. BTW, that includes the negatives about the tiles and mounting the thing on the side of a tank that you can't escape from. The problem is that it's such a marvelously complicated machine, that it's MTBF is unacceptably low. It's OVERcomplicated, being a system full of compromises designed in by multiple committees with differing goals. Don't misunderstand me, I love the things. BTW, FWIW I work for a NASA contractor adjacent to the Langley facility. It bothers me that about 1 in 100 have not returned in one piece. As an engineer, it also bothers me that the system is running wayyyy beyond it's design life.

    The Soyuz system is remarkable in that it's been reliable. They're not perfect. Yes, they had fatal accidents, however, the last one occured in 1971. They learned from those failures and implemented design changes in the later modules. Yes, it's also true that Soyuz has only flown around 100 manned flights; but, even when it fails, as the NAV system did today, the people return alive. That's a reputation that's hard to argue with.

    I think what we've learned from operating the shuttle and looking at the Russian program, is that simple makes for a better MTBF and does it at a lower cost. It may not be gee-wiz. It may appear to be a step backward. If this means the people come home alive, it's the right move. Use the big boosters, in parallel, to put the equipment in space and then have the people meet it there.

    It's like we tried to run, when we didn't know how to walk yet. We stumbled a few times, scrapped our knees. Now we're being a little more cautious as we learn to walk with confidence. We'll run again, when the times right, that is, when the technology catches up and the infrastructure is in place.
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:05PM (#21068211) Homepage Journal
    In fact, the Buran design was superior - it had no lift engines of its own and could ride on top of the real rocket. This simplifies the loads on the main rocket, allow for more cargo and makes the vehicle immune to insulation damage.

    Of course the Soviets noticed this was a bad idea (it would be smarter to send the cargo on top of the Energia rocket and not carry Buran's dead weight) and aborted the project after the first flight.

    They could have aborted it before, but then there was that national pride thing...
  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:28PM (#21068329)
    Von Braun's body is a moulderin' in the ground so we aint got Saturn V's no more.

    To be quite serious there are a lot of people and infrastructure missing to recreate a Saturn V so it would be better to do something else that it's designers understand in every detail from early in it's development. The Russians have a large rocket in development - there's an ISS so why not international effort on a launch vehicle?

  • by IWannaBeAnAC ( 653701 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:50PM (#21068463)
    maybe you should consider the safety records of Soyuz vs the shuttle, before making such statements...
  • by aliquis ( 678370 ) <> on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:20AM (#21068601) Homepage

    Also you would probably save your government a hell of a lot of money if you let the russians produce the hardware.

    If there is anything they do it's reliable stuff. (True for tanks, guns and whatever aswell.)
  • by guacamole ( 24270 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:33AM (#21068657)
    (NASA's) Answer. The average cost to launch a Space Shuttle is about $450 million per mission.

    In other words, the whole shuttle program had been a big waste of money that set the American space exploration back by several decades. The whole thing should have been canned after the Challenger disaster. At that point it was already so damn obvious that the program failed MOST of its original goals. This situation is so bad that Russians can indeed successfully compete with us even though they're using decades old technology and at a fraction of our costs.
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:37AM (#21068679) Homepage Journal
    It's not revisionist to think they probably ran out of money _because_ the Buran solved no real problem that had not already been solved with other technologies. Had the Buran a real task to do, it would probably get some funding.

    Since the intention behind it (and other projects as well) was to give technical parity between the two superpowers and the Buran gave nothing new (the USSR could launch people and cargo to space better without it), it got scrapped. They could not afford to let the US develop something significantly better, so they had to do something on the same lines, just to be safe. The main difference is they took less time to figure out it was a really bad idea. And keep in mind theirs was a better one.

    The problem is not "build a reusable spacecraft" but rather "get this thing to orbit, for less money than we already pay". If you focus on the wrong problem, it's inevitable you arrive at the wrong solution.

    As it happened, Buran was a great solution to get something down in one piece. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen often enough to justify the money spent on it.
  • Re:Costs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IgnoramusMaximus ( 692000 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:45AM (#21068723)

    Yes, that is why something like 80% of ISS supplies did not arrive there by the Progress launch, no?

    And the major Russian modules had to be lifted by the Shuttle, certainly?

    Or perheaps the Russians use separate payload carriers which can range up to the Energia class of rockets which make the Space Shuttle look like a wimp at 4 times its payload to LEO and equal to the Shuttle's payload to .. Mars.

    So one should really compare 2 Soyuz capsules (6 people) + payload launch = 1 Space Shuttle launch. Still its something like $25 mil x 2 for the Soyuzes + $60 mil for the Energia (at the expensive, all frills added end - the technology is not radically different from the Soyuz boosters) = $110 mil per launch. Which is 1/4th of a relaunch of a Shuttle, never you mind the up-front $1.7 billion cost. And the Shuttle, unlike the Energia payload, is rather unlikely to make it to Mars or Venus.

    Not to mention that the thing is a death trap which killed 14 astronauts in the last two decades and is unlikely to stop there.

  • Re:Command Economy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by GnuDiff ( 705847 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @02:54AM (#21069387) Journal
    Umm, not neccessarily.

    Remember, the collapse of the SU - nobody had time nor money for space. Apart from several succesful science divisions, most of Soviet-time science institutions were struggling for survival (and many of them didn't survive) both in Russia and in its former republics. There was rampant stealing and selling of scientific machines, technologies and what have you. So, Buran might've been axed just because there was no interest in space exploration at that time at all.

    Additionally, considering the costs mentioned, I wouldn't be at all surprised, if some costs that are significant in the US are simply not taken into account in Russian space programs. For example, it could well be that astronauts are paid next to nothing, or fuel is being diverted by government rather than being bought. Etc.

  • by RedWizzard ( 192002 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @05:20AM (#21069943)

    It's not revisionist to think they probably ran out of money _because_ the Buran solved no real problem that had not already been solved with other technologies. Had the Buran a real task to do, it would probably get some funding.
    You do know that the soviet union was collapsing at the time, right? The lack of funding for Buran had nothing to do with the program and everything to do with the economic and political state of the union. Buran could have been the greatest space program ever conceived and it still would have been cancelled.

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