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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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  • Bargain space flight (Score:4, Interesting)

    by davmoo ( 63521 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:10PM (#21067599)
    Just off the top of my head...

    If the shuttle costs $2 billion, and a Soyuz is only $25 million, we could send up 80 Soyuz launches for that same $2 billion.

    And if we expand it to cover that there have been 5 shuttles built, that becomes 400 Soyuz flights.

    To put that in to perspective, there has only been 119 shuttle launches thus far, and 2 of those $2 billion dollar shuttles came back in little pieces parts. Plus, it doesn't even figure in launch expenses, just the price of the shuttles themselves. Hard to believe that way back when the shuttles were designed, they were expected to each be launched 100 times.

    At those rates, it doesn't matter that a Soyuz isn't reusable.
  • by clarkkent09 ( 1104833 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:48PM (#21067795)
    The comparison seems a little bit unfair on the Shuttle.

    First of all, does the Soyuz figure of 25 mil include the cost of the launch vehicle or just the spacecraft? A search for per launch cost of Soyuz gives me figures from 40-60 mil.

    Secondly, Shuttle has a maximum payload of 50,000lb, Soyuz is more in the region of 15,000lb. That gives about $200 mil for 4 Soyuz launches versus $450 mil per one Shuttle launch for equivalent amount of cargo. Of course there is the initial cost of the shuttle as well to take into account but unlike Soyuz that is spread over multiple launches.

    Still, he only thing that really matters is the cost per pound of payload and Soyuz still beats Shuttle by a long way.
  • by seadd ( 530971 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @09:58PM (#21067839) Homepage

    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.
    According to data from Wikipedia: SS payload to LEO: 24400kg Orbiter mass: 68,586.6kg So, to get 24 tons of cargo into orbit, we send nearly 70 tons extra. As a comparison, Russian Proton rocket launches 22 tons into orbit, and uses 40 years old proven design, and was used for launching the parts of the Mir station. So, why exactly do we need Space Shuttle? Do I hear someone mentioning Saturn 5?
  • by silas_moeckel ( 234313 ) <{silas} {at} {dsminc-corp.com}> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:03PM (#21067865) Homepage
    It would seem a lot of the logic behind the shuttle was to get the gear and the people there on one transport. While I personally think the shuttles design was most about getting the funding not building the most efficient/safe unit.

    In any event it seems like the saturn v's could have gotten the IIS up in aprox 4 lifts, this would seem more efficient as there would be less hardware joining sections together.
  • by corsec67 ( 627446 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:04PM (#21067873) Homepage Journal
    One of the biggest problems with the Shuttle is that the crew area is on the side of the external fuel tank, and the booster rockets. Yes, capsules on top may be "old hat," but it is a lot safer when you are going up and all of the almost-explosive stuff is under you. That, and there is nothing to fall onto the crew part. Who cares if the insulation on the tank gets damaged if it is below the crew part.

    For example, how many missions prior to the Shuttle had problems with insulation falling onto other parts of the rocket?

    I am not saying that a capsule instantly makes it safe, but it does alleviate a bunch of concerns NASA has with the Shuttle, especially since the Columbia accident.
  • Re:Costs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Daengbo ( 523424 ) <daengbo@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:16PM (#21067949) Homepage Journal
    It can only be used once, but costs just $25 million. The newest Endeavor space shuttle cost $2 billion, but is reusable.

    When I was a little boy, I sat in on one of my father's presentations on the (then future) space shuttle to interested people in the aviation community (he was with the FAA). The talk was glowing and emphasized how much we'd save by re-using this material. As a sci-fi enthusiast like my father, I remember being so excited about what I was hearing.

    Sadly, that cost savings never came. I have read numerous reports about how much more that shuttle system costs than a traditional system. In my not-so-educated opinion, focus on the shuttle has left our space program behind where it would have been had we kept going with the tech we had at the time.

    What's the next-gen shuttle going to cost us?
  • by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:24PM (#21067993) Homepage Journal
    It's true the shuttle does things that are really necessary and quite cool - getting people to space and back, getting big things to space and getting other big things back, but the fact that those abilities are seldom needed at once is a killer.

    There must be a way to ferry big stuff into orbit frequently - even if it is just a truckload of provisions for the ISS or a whole vehicle capable of taking a crew to the Moon and back. There must be a way to send people to the ISS and back. There must be a way to allow those people already in space to repair expensive stuff like the Hubble. Finally, there should probably be a way to return things the size of the Hubble back to Earth in one piece.

    Sending large things to orbit is very frequent, ferrying people is less frequent and bringing back stuff is even less frequent if needed at all.

    Having something that does all three at the same time seems like a bad idea.
  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:25PM (#21067999) Homepage Journal
    Great, it's a reusable space station. The point that I'd make is that it shouldn't be. For the cost of what we do with it, we could have an even larger permanent space station, just use smaller capsules(and large cargo rockets) to get there.

    Design a space station that only has to survive being lifted once, and doesn't have to come down intact. Heck, make it modular - remove pieces as they wear out and let them drop back if you want to.

    For satellite repair design a space tug that can go out with some astronauts and the robotic arm to conduct repairs on satellites. It should be almost an order of magnitude lighter than the shuttle, so it shouldn't take much fuel. For longer repairs, consider hauling the satellite back to the station. Heck, have a bigalow structure you can haul larger cargo into and pressurize if you want.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:37PM (#21068053)

    The reason the Shuttle is a bad idea and remains so, is that it isn't economical to use. Many of those capabilities are unnecessary and add little value to the Shuttle. That's why it's only being used for launching ISS components and a Hubble repair mission. If the ISS were complete, the Shuttle would already be dead, and we'd be saving ourselves $2 billion or more a year.

    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.

    Orbital Sciences and the Pegasus did just that in the late 80's. NASA started feeding them contracts so they wouldn't compete with the big players. Second, those fancy suborbital flights are closer to orbit than you think. They have higher delta-v's due to gravitational and air resistance losses (I'd say it turns a factor of five into a factor of 2-4). Also you can stage lifters. My take is that a three stage rocket will get you there. And we all know there are two stage to orbit launchers out there. No reason a private company can't repeat with its own funds what a private company did with government funds.

    Ultimately, economics is far more important than "coolness". The Shuttle never was economical. Too bad it took us around thirty years to figure that out.

  • Re:Soviet Russia (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @10:56PM (#21068163) Homepage Journal
    In Soviet Russia, worn out jokes own you!

    Actually, I suspect that many regulars do like the endless repetition of "in Soviet Russia" and "our x overlords". You and I get tired of hearing the same jokes over and over, but we might well be in the minority.

    One problem is that the mod system give you a way to mod up good jokes, but no way to mod down bad ones. ("Overrated" is not supposed to be used for that, though it sometimes is.) So anybody who has a reaction to a story that's even vaguely humorous jumps in with it, because theres a good chance they'll be modded up.

    Solution: balance the upmode "funny" with a new downmod: "lame".
  • Go Meme Yourself (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fm6 ( 162816 ) on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:13PM (#21068243) Homepage Journal
    Calling a tired old joke a "meme" is pretentious crap. The word comes from Richard Dawkins's theory that some ideas are to culture what genes are to biology. I think that's an overrated theory, but even if I took it seriously (especially if I took seriously) I'd be irritated at people who think that telling the same joke over and over to the same audience is somehow spreading an idea. It's more like a social earworm [wikipedia.org]. Mindworm?
  • Re:Costs (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ozmanjusri ( 601766 ) <aussie_bob@@@hotmail...com> on Sunday October 21, 2007 @11:44PM (#21068423) Journal
    Sadly, that cost savings never came. I have read numerous reports about how much more that shuttle system costs than a traditional system.

    Going on the numbers given here, the Shuttle costs $18,400/kg lifted to LEO, while the Soyuz costs $28,400 for the same lift.

  • by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:02AM (#21068517) Homepage
    Yep - about it. The thing is, it was one of the BIG selling points, even in the commercial realm. Everyone was going to design their Sats to either be repaired on orbit, or recovered and returned to earth for repair/rebuild. There was even a NASA standard for how the grapple points would work.

      That all went away with Challenger. I can remember watching the couple of sat recovers on TV (Yeah - I'm an older geek - heck, I was writing some code at WORK when I heard Challenger was destroyed). I can remember the classified shuttle launches (everyones guess was one was a KH-7 and the other was a radar sat). I can remember the great talk about Vandenburg being almost ready (all the neat stuff was going to happen there), and about the next gen one piece carbon fibre SRBs. At the company O worked for we had a couple of Ex Perkin Elmer folks (they build the Hubble) and folks who worked for NASA helping build the first batch of shuttles. Heck, I can even remember the first drop test of the Enterprise
  • Well, (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @12:34AM (#21068659) Journal
    We do not have a next-gen shuttle coming. We have a LOAD of new crafts coming online over the next 4 years.
    1. In particular, Russia is still looking to develop their Kliper (I think that they have finally gotten wise and are just going it alone).
    2. China has their copy of the current Russian system.
    3. America is developing the Oriion capsule which will use the Ares I/Ares V rockets (possibly the Ares IV). The capsule will sit 7, and the launch costs for ppl will be 100M.
    4. Spacex is doing Falcon 9 with Dragon at 35 Million for 7 ppl (COTS figures in this).
    5. Scaled Composites has a space plane approach (similar to what was going to replace apollo, but Nixon pushed the current abomination on us), but costs are not known. It is expected to be no more than spacex's.
    6. Another COTS entry now that kistler is dead (thank GOD; it was another military abomination; it was a way to funnel money from NASA to military companies such as l-mart). The new one is likely to be spacedev's dream chaser, though I think that t/space has a shot at it as well. t/space has the same weaknesses as kistler; ran by more ex-military ppl, while spacedev is ran by businessmen similar to spacex.
    7. EADS is supposedly looking at doing at European space plane, but they have as much progress as Russia's kistler; sitting @ an idea.

    So, to answer your question, I do not know. I do know that it will be a LOT cheaper very soon. Spacex has set the bar on that at about 5 million to launch a person. And the other launch systems will have to come close or beat it.

    BTW, good to see you around again. You still in asia (thailand?)?
  • Re:Costs (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cecil ( 37810 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @01:17AM (#21068875) Homepage
    Don't forget the Russian Proton K. As it's able to lift 22,000 kg to LEO, I believe it's third among today's launch vehicles behind the shuttle and the Delta 4 Heavy (which is brand new). There are a few others worth mentioning as well. The Titan IV is not too shabby at 21,700 kg, and the Atlas V can lift 20,000 kg.

    You're right that Saturn V is still king though, and will remain so for the immediate future. 118,000 kg, that's incredible, really.
  • by rts008 ( 812749 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @01:23AM (#21068907) Journal

    I second both IWannaBeAnAC and aliquis on this one, they are giving it to you straight up.

    Also, I would consider insurance no matter what the source of my hardware for a 'Space Operation'....there are so many things that can fail and cause catastrophic failure.

    As an American I hate to admit it (yes, I'm old enough to remember McCarthy, and having every public access gov't. building having to have a bomb shelter), but as far as heavy lift solutions, they are at the top of the heap. Effeciency, cost, capibility,reliability-they have it all...best orbital 'bang for the buck' solutions at this time.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .retawriaf.> on Monday October 22, 2007 @02:58AM (#21069409) Homepage

    In fact, the Buran design was superior - it had no lift engines of its own and could ride on top of the real rocket.

    Have you ever actually looked at a picture of a Buran on the launch pad? Try this one. [wikipedia.org]

    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)

    Oh? Check out this picture of Energia configured to carry cargo. [buran.ru]

    and aborted the project after the first flight.
    Actually, Buran first flew in 1988 and wasn't cancelled until 1993 - with the intervening five years spent building what was intended to be the operational craft (four of them).
    Buran, and Energia, were cancelled because the country that built them (the Soviet Union) collapsed - and the country that replaced it (Russia/CIS) was broke.
    Or, to put it simply you are zero for three.
  • by IgnoramusMaximus ( 692000 ) on Monday October 22, 2007 @11:37AM (#21072815)

    First, The Energia has not been launched since the days of the Soviet Union. It is in the same boat as the Saturn V. That is, it is DEAD. Russia has openly come out and said that it will not launch again. But if you are going to do sad comparisons, then please compare the Engeria to the Saturn.

    True, I had Energia mixed up in my mind with the Protons and the like. This does not matter however since what I was talking about is the practical concept and the costs of disposable boosters versus the cost-plus subcontractor's wet dream, the white elephant of a Shuttle.

    Also unlike the Energia, the Saturn is not even possible to be built again as the NASA bureaucrats decided that its core technologies were not worth preserving. The Russians are still designing all sorts of new boosters, some of them comparable to Energia in capabilities.

    Maybe in the 90's during the Soviets, but not today.

    Energia was nothing but 2 Protons stuck to a larger core, none of which had any revolutionary departures from the present designs. The costs were simply linear progression in labour and materials.

    Finally, trying to compare the costs of 2 soyuz (developed in the 60's and holds 3 guys, and little else), to the shuttle has to be the true joke. Based on that, then you should compare the apollo capsule costs against the soyuz. Worse, you play games with comparing the original costs vs. a launch costs.

    No, I compared both, because the "original" cost of a Soyuz includes its launch cost. It is not a reusable vehicle.

    Also, we are comparing the "bang for the buck" results, not the lengths of dicks of the nationals of the respective nations. Space Shuttle is only good at one thing: delivering pork barrel to contractors. At everything else it is a sub-standard vehicle for its expense, by all objective measures.

    The US had the technology (as you yourself point out) to base their inexpensive vehicle designs on, but it chose instead to put greed and politics ahead of technical merits. And so the death-trap, completely uneconomical Shuttle is the result. The Russians are in no way responsible for American screwups, they merely chose to follow the proven path (and they have abandoned "pissing contest" impractical projects such as the Buran).

I go on working for the same reason a hen goes on laying eggs. -- H.L. Mencken