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Science

What you need to know about Russia's new spaceport

With Thursday's launch of a Soyuz rocket, Russia's new Vostochny spaceport is now officially in business. Did you know that there are more than 20 spaceports around the world? DW has the facts.

Why is Russia parting ways with Baikonur?

In Soviet times, it didn't make a difference that Baikonur was in Kazakhstan. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, this space station has been on foreign ground, which has led to problems between Kazakhstan and Russia's space agency, Roskosmos. Following the move to Vostochny, Russia will be autonomous with regard to its rocket operations.

A second important aspect pertains to cost. The annual fee for Baikonur was $117 million (104 million euros) - around five percent of Russia's space budget.

Where is Vostochny?

This new space station is located deep in Siberia, well east of Lake Baikal. It is around 6,000 kilometers from Moscow and over 1,000 km northwest of Vladivostok. The distance to the Chinese border is just 100 km.

What rockets will launch here?

At this point, only Soyuz rockets can take off from Vostochny. These are Russia's workhorse rockets, so to speak, logging in excess of 1,000 launches over the past half century. Right now, only unmanned Soyuz launches will take place at Vostochny.

For manned missions, Angara rockets will be used. These are still in the development phase, along with the new Russian spaceship Federaziya.

The launch pad at Vostochny for the Angara rockets is not yet finished. Experts say it will take until 2023. At this point, Russia is planning to send its first manned mission to the moon in 2029.

Where are spaceports generally located?

A rocket launch site must be located in a secluded place, or at least with a large body of water located directly to the east, like at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This ensures that no humans will be hurt if the rocket explodes in the critical first minutes after takeoff.

Will Baikonur be shut down?

As time progresses, the former Soviet space epicenter will indeed lose importance, but all manned missions will launch here until 2023. Russia's contract with Kazakhstan is set to run until 2050. Even if the Russians pull out early, it will remain a spaceport. At the moment, a project known as Baiterek is being planned, which will see Russian-Kazakh rockets launched from Baikonur. It is speculated that Kazakhstan may use Baikonur on its own after the Russians have left.

What are the most important spaceports in the world?

Baikonur is by far the most important Russian cosmodrome - and at the moment the most important spaceport in the world. Soyuz rockets heading to the International Space Station are launched from here, like the one German astronaut Alexander Gerst was in on his mission in 2014.

Even more well known is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida, however. The Apollo missions are launched from here, as well as all US spaceship missions and a number of satellites and probes.

A third launch pad for manned missions is found at the Chinese spaceport Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert.

Europe's spaceport is located in Kourou in French-Guiana in South America. The Ariana rockets take off from here.

Do spaceports have to be located as close as possible to the equator?

No. But the closer a rocket launches to the equator, the more momentum it receives, because the angular velocity of the earth is highest at the equator (1600 km/h). The spaceport located closest to the equator is Kourou, just five degrees north latitude, while Cape Canaveral (28.5 degrees), Baikonur (46 degrees) and Vostochny (52 degrees) are much further north.

This "free" momentum is important for launches of telecommunications satellites headed for geostationary orbit just under 36,000 km above the equator.

For satellites headed for orbits that travel over the poles, a launch from near the equator is actually a hindrance. The satellite needs an immense amount of fuel to fly in a curve. This is why Russia's Plesetsk Cosmodrome is located at 63 degrees north latitude. Over 1000 earth observatory satellites, including Europe's sentinels, have been launched from here.

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