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Vostochny: The most futuristic airport ever!

The world's largest aircraft, carrying Mars-bound ships, and winged shuttles, returning from lunar missions, may one day come together at the planned airport in the Russian Far East. However before these dreams can become reality, the Vostochny airport has its most difficult mission -- to get born.

General

An architectural visualization of the planned airport in Vostochny Cosmodrome.

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Crucial piece of infrastructure

The importance of the airport for Vostochny Cosmodrome is hard to underestimate. With the extremely remote location of Russia's future space center (six time zones away from Moscow), air travel will be crucial for the access to the site for personnel and cargo from the European part of Russia. At the same time, the closest major airport to Vostochny is now in Blagoveshensk, more than 150 kilometers away from Uglegorsk, the main residential area of the space center. Most cargo delivered there has to be sent to the space port by rail or by truck.

The only alternatives are the Ukrainka strategic bomber base, some 70 kilometers away and a small air strip near Svobodny, 30 kilometers away, which can only receive small fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. Not surprisingly, with the launch of the Vostochny project in 2007, the Russian government promised to build a 21st century airport right at the site.

An-124

An-124 Ruslan cargo aircraft play important role in logistical support of the Russian space program.

Futuristic roles to play

The airport in Vostochny will begin its career in a traditional way, receiving passengers and cargo heading to Vostochny. It could also double as a local commercial hub. However, the facility is quickly expected to assume additional roles, such as a base for the cosmonaut search and rescue team and for groups specialized in recovery of various rocket components falling downrange from the center during launches. One of the most frequent visitors to the airport in the early phase of its operation will be the Ilyushin-76, the most common Russian transport cargo plane.

In the following decade, if the Kremlin ever commits to the development of a super-heavy launcher and decides to build it at the traditional industrial centers of the nation's rocket industry, such as Moscow, Samara or Omsk, the airport would be not just indispensable, but most likely the only feasible way of getting oversized components of giant rockets to the site. The traditional modes of transportation, such as railways can accommodate stages not exceeding four meters in diameter, while the main booster of a future big rocket could reach as much as seven meters across. They would have to be carried onboard custom-built aircraft, such as Antonov-125 Ruslan or the even bigger An-225 Mriya.

Even more futuristically, the airport could also be a landing site for the fly-back boosters of reusable rocket systems, if such vehicles are ever built. According to a current Russian reusable space system concept, known as MRKS-1, following vertical liftoff from a nearby launch pad and separation from the core stage, first-stage boosters would unfold their wings, fire their air-breathing jet engines and land horizontally on the runway automatically. With two winged boosters on the heaviest versions of the reusable rocket, a pair would have to line up on the approach to the airport and touch down in short sequence one after another.

Fancy design

Like all other facilities in Vostochny, the airport for the space center was conceived on a grand scale. The entire complex was to include a total of 11 facilities staffed with 500 people and include the newly-built A-class runway located at Site 5, around 12 kilometers north of Uglegorsk, the main residential area of the space center. A 20-kilometer road with wide-radius turns will connect the airfield with the main processing area for rockets and spacecraft, allowing the delivery of large containers with spacecraft or even whole rocket stages.

The airport would be designed to receive the world-largest aircraft such as An-225 Mriya. Initially, its runway was to have a length of 3,300 meters, with a later extension to 4,400 or even 4,500 meters. The runway would be 60 meters wide. (Original plans called for a width of 75 meters).

A dedicated tarmac for the cosmonaut search and rescue aircraft was planned on the opposite side of the main runway.

The passenger area will feature a terminal built in the shape of bat and capable of processing 300 passengers per hour, including 50 passengers per hour at its international counter and 30 passengers per hour at a separate counter for official delegations.

The Design and Research Institute of Air Transport, OAO Lenaeroproyekt based in St. Petersburg developed the architecture of the airport.

Planned facilities at the airport:

  • Main runway;
  • Main taxiway;
  • Connecting taxiways;
  • Passenger and cargo terminal;
  • Cargo tarmac.

Service and technical area includes:

  • Passenger service zone;
  • Cargo zone;
  • Aircraft service area;
  • Support facility zone;
  • Fueling zone;
  • Air-traffic control zone.

Passenger are includes:

  • Passenger terminal;
  • International section;
  • Official delegation section;
  • Parking and access area;
  • Air personnel housing area.

Dream postponed

According to early plans, the airport was to be a built in Vostochny during the "preparatory phase" of the center's development, even ahead of the first launch pad. However problems started long before workers had a chance to break ground at the facility.

In May 2012, the Federal Aviation Agency, Rosaviatsiya, refused to lead the construction of the airport. The agency's head Aleksandr Neradko wrote to the Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov that the 27.9-billion-ruble airfield infrastructure had been severely underpriced (apparently by the main military contractor, Spetsstroi). It was apparently a typical situation for the entire Vostochny project, since the Russian space agency, Roskosmos, has been locked in a similar battle with Spetsstroi for years over other infrastructure at the center. (594)

As of beginning of 2013, the construction at the site of the future airport was promised to start instantly and the first plane was scheduled to land there in 2015. However by that year, the facility still did not exist. Later promises to start the project in 2014, also did not materialize.

By the end of 2013, satellite imagery showed what looked like tree clearing for the access road leading to the site, with some extension of the road appearing on photos from space by the end of 2014.

More than seven years after the approval of the Vostochny project, this expensive piece of infrastructure was apparently overshadowed by many other priorities within the massive project, such as the launch pad, the processing facility and the residential area. On June 5, 2015, the head of Roskosmos Igor Komarov told journalistis that the construction of the airport had been finally starting.

In November 2015, Komarov said that plans had been made to develop the airport in Vostochny jointly with the Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom and to "optimize" the expenses for the project.

Despite long delays with construction, the project officials are already concerned about recruiting enough qualified personnel in the region to stuff such a super-modern facility. They considered a special training program at one of the aviation institutions in the country for students from the area to grow cadre for the Vostochny airport. (679)

In June 2016, the head of TsENKI, the launch infrastructure division at Roskosmos, Rano Dzhuraeva told the official TASS news agency that funding for the airport had been allocated within the (yet-to-be approved) launch infrastructure budget and the facility would be completed in 2018, or three years behind the original schedule.

resurs

A photo from the Resurs P1 satellite shows initial construction activities at the airport in Vostochny on October 20, 2015.

 

(To be continued)

 

Read much more about the history of the Russian space program in a richly illustrated, large-format glossy edition:

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Page author: Anatoly Zak; Last update: June 19, 2016

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: February 18, 2015

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IMAGE ARCHIVE

airfield

A modern airfield capable of receiving heavy transport aircraft was one of the first facilities to be constructed in Vostochny. Credit: Roskosmos


terminal

The main passenger terminal at Vostochny airport was designed in the form of a bat. Once completed, it will become main gateway to Vostochny for numerous specialists and officials from European Russia... Credit: Roskosmos


cargo

...Even more important would be cargo terminal in Vostochny to receive hardware built primarily in European part of Russia. Credit: Roskosmos


Il-76

With the opening of an airport in Vostochny, Russian contractors could rely on Il-76 transport planes to deliver most urgent cargo to the space center. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak


An-225

The airport in Vostochny would have to be expanded to receive the world's largest aircraft, such as this Ukrainian An-225 originally built for the Buran program and capable of bringing big rocket components or other cargo reaching 200 tons from European Russia. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


back

Ultimately, the airport in Vostochny could also see returning stages of reusable rockets. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2001 Anatoly Zak


mrkn

Currently studied reusable rocket system, MRKS, based in Vostochny would be equipped with a pair of boosters featuring folding wing and designed to land horizontally on the runway in Vostochny in a short sequence. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2013 Anatoly Zak