After a somewhat troubled development which featured launch vehicle changes, worker strikes and charges of corruption, Russia is finally ready to christen its new Vostochny Cosmodrome in a baptism of fire, courtesy of a Soyuz 2.1a rocket. Liftoff of the first booster to fly from the new spaceport, which is located in the nation’s Far Eastern Amur region near the border with China, is scheduled for Wednesday, April 27th at 5:01 AM Moscow time (2:01 AM GMT), which puts it at 10:01 PM EDT on Tuesday, April 26th in the U.S.
The booster will be carrying a total of three satellites, all intended for Sun Synchronous Orbit. The largest of the trio is the 1300 kg Lomosonov scientific satellite, which will study gamma ray bursts, cosmic rays and fluorescent light in the upper atmosphere. It will be accompanied by a 53 kg remote sensing and test bed satellite called Aist-2D, as well as a single cubesat.
The first flight from Vostochny will mark a significant step in realizing Russia’s ambitions to be able to conduct space launches to all orbits from its own territory. Currently, most Russian boosters, including all Soyuz and Progress flights bound for the International Space Station, lift off from the Baikonour Csomodrome in Kazakhstan. Spacecraft headed into polar orbits, including many of its military satellites lift off from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome near the Arctic Circle.
While the new spaceport at Vostochny shares a similar launch inclination, at 51 degrees to Baikonour’s 51.6, flight paths over the Pacific offer Russia launch options it has never enjoyed before. Eventually they will likely include water landings of crewed spacecraft of the sort which have long been a hallmark of U.S. launches from Cape Canaveral. One option it does not have however, is launching the heavy lift Proton booster from Vostochny, meaning that Baikonour will continue to host Russian launches from that historic spaceport until the heavy lift version of the new Angara booster is ready to enter commercial service.
One interesting, or perhaps ironic note regarding the upcoming mission from the spaceport on which Russia is basing so much of its future, is the fact that the Soyuz booster being employed is an updated, but still obviously recognizable descendant of the converted R-7 ballistic missile that inaugurated the space era with the launch of Sputnik in 1957.