|Russia's newest space city
The massive construction of the Vostochny space port in the Russian Far East in the 2010s promised to transform the nearby military settlement of Uglegorsk into a state-of-the-art space city. Russia's newest space base was christened Tsiolkovsky, after the self-taught scientist and philosopher who is widely regarded as the prophet of the space age.
Residential area in Vostochny as seen from the Resurs P1 satellite on October 20, 2015.
The 2007 decision by the Russian government to build the Vostochny Cosmodrome required a whole new city which would become a residential hub for the future space center. At the time, only a few 1960s-era apartment blocks of the former military base known as Uglegorsk ("coal town") stood at the site. In January 2008, Evgeny Stepanenko, the deputy head of the local administration told the Amurskaya Pravda daily that even if all existing residential buildings of the town, including military barracks and hostels were occupied to their full capacity, they could not accommodate more than 12,000 people, in addition to then current population of 5,213. According to a 2007 report in the Kommersant newspaper, 6,000 apartments in the town had stayed empty after the decommissioning of a near-by missile unit.
To resolve the future housing problem, Russian authorities conceived a large-scale construction of residential buildings, including three new city districts for as many as 25,000 people each. The work was originally scheduled to commence in 2009. The local government also promised to scrap Uglegorsk's status of "Closed Territorial Entity" or ZATO, which limited access to the former military town.
Last but not least, the authorities planned to rename the place into something more appropriate for its role. (The name Uglegorsk apparently owed its origin to a Soviet effort to cover-up the presence of a missile base at the site, since no actual coal is found in the area.)
Original town of Uglegorsk founded on Oct. 27, 1961.
Designing a new town
Before financial reality could abbreviate their dreams, Russian architects had a chance to design a perfect "space capital" in Vostochny.
It was decided that the new town would extend southeast, along a spur of the Amur federal highway. The layout and geographical orientation of the residential districts reportedly took into account the northerly direction of prevailing winds in the region. By stretching the residential area along the industrial and support facilities of the space center, architects hoped to keep workplaces within walking distance for future employees. (698)
The new town would consist of primarily 6-, 9- and 12-floor apartment blocks featuring a modern design. The new apartments were promised to be complete with furniture! (678) The Spetsstroi agency also promised that new buildings of the city will have access ramps for people with limited mobility and the streets would be equipped with modern lighting, wide sidewalks and bicycle paths.
In addition, an "elite" district with one-family houses was also planned.
A total of four new residential districts were designed:
According to official Russian sources, the majority of the new town's 25,000 population would come from the region and only a segment would have to migrate from other parts of the country. (698) How this claim would be reconciled with the virtual absence of "rocket scientists" and other highly qualified personnel in the Russian Far East remained to be seen.
An artist rendering of a proposed fully developed residential area in Vostochny. The reality so far is nowhere near these dreams. Credit: Roskosmos
The actual construction of the new town in Vostochny started at the end of 2013, or four years behind original plans. Grandiose designs for a 40,000-person city were now split into a three-phase plan, postponing most of the construction until later. The population of the center was expected to grow along with the arrival of each new launch vehicle to the space center: Soyuz in the 2010s, Angara in the 2020s and the yet-to-be-named super heavy rocket in the 2030s.
As of April 2013, the first phase of construction was to be completed by the end of 2015. The initial housing district was to include 24 buildings for 12,000 residents and social infrastructure. (678) This plan was also quickly scaled down to 17 buildings for 5,000 people.
By the end of January 2014, Spetsstroi promised "soon" to complete 17 buildings, including 12 apartment blocks with 1,482 apartments, with the top floors being in process of construction. However due to the late arrival of construction documentation in October 2013, real construction could only start in November, Spetsstroi complained.
Plans apparently continued to be scaled down in 2014, when the official certificate for the town projected the completion of 1,045 apartments for 3,500 people in December 2015. A kindergarten would accommodate 230 children and feature a swimming pool. The residential complex would also include an administrative building, a new hospital and a pediatric center.
The triangular-shaped, three-story, 3,000-square-meter administrative building was to include offices for 95 employees, a 150-seat conference hall, a cable TV studio, a marriage office, an archive, a server room and a dispatcher bureau.
Finally, by April 2015, the first population of the new residential housing was quoted as 1,200 people, with the schedule to complete four buildings by July 1, five more by October 1 and three more by December 1.
Probably responding to the lack of workforce, in April 2014, Russian officials announced plans to recruit student brigades for the construction of the residential area during summer months.
During his visit to the site on Sept. 2, 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against the Soviet practice of building technical infrastructure at the expense of residential housing. In fact, that was exactly what was going on. According to Putin, during his helicopter tour he had seen only about eight new apartment blocks for 3.5 thousand residents under construction, while 40 had been promised for 12,000 people. A press-release from Spetsstroi issued at the same time said that three blocks with 228 apartments would be completed in 2014 and another nine buildings, a kindergarten and support infrastructure would be finished by June 2015.
First new district in Vostochny around beginning of 2016.
On January 15, 2016, Roskosmos announced that first residents had moved into two new 72-apartment blocks along the Gagarin street in the Zvezdny Gorodok (Starry Town) district. According to the agency, two more buildings were close to completion. The announcement stressed that the residential complex had already been linked by a new road, had had a functioning grocery store, an active bus line, while a kindergarten and an administrative building had still been under construction.
At the beginning of 2016, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said that 300 new apartments had already been available and 1,206 more would be ready by the end of the year.
In May 2016, Spetstroi said that in addition to four completed apartment blocks, three more buildings for 800 families and an administrative building would be completed in June and five more residential buildings and a child care facility with a pool for 230 children would be completed before the end of October 2016 or around a year and half behind the previous schedule.
In August 2016, Spetsstroi said that it was finishing the construction of the administrative building.
A new residential district in Vostochny at the end of April 2016.
Marking the third launch of the Soyuz rocket from Vostochny on Feb. 1, 2018, the Governor of the Amur Region Aleksandr Kozlov said that eight thousand people had already been living in Tsiolkovsky and its population was estimated to grow to 30,000 in a few years.
What's in the name?
In April 2013, Putin reportedly proposed to christen the new city Tsiolkovsky. During public hearings in Uglegorsk, on March 14, 2014, town residents reportedly approved re-naming the town into Tsiolkovsky. However six days later, deputies at the legislative council of the Amur Region ordered a referendum of the local population on the name change. Official Russian media were seemingly confused -- sometime identifying the town as Uglegorsk and other time as Tsiolkovsky. It should be said that the name Tsiolkovsky does not sound very well in Russian. Not surprisingly, the issue remained unresolved for years.
Only during its 55th meeting on October 6, 2015, the Regional Legislative Assembly, gave Uglegorsk a status of a city within its existing borders and approved renaming it into Tsiolkovsky, as the "first phase" in the name change process, according to the official press-release of the local government in the Amur Region. A decree and related documents would be sent for expertise to the Federal Cadastre and Cartography Agency, the local government said. In December 2015, the status of the city was re-affirmed as the "Closed Territorial Entity" or ZATO, greatly restricting the access to the residential area.
In July 2016, a press-service of the Amur Region told the official TASS news agency that renaming the city would cost the regional government 1.545 million rubles, which included changing all the signage. The "transition" period for renaming was streched all the way to the end of 2017.
City of Tsiolkovsky in numbers (698):
Planned infrastructure in the residential area of Vostochny (698):
Projected population growth in Vostochny as of 2013:
A considerable expansion of the residential area in Vostochny would have to precede the construction of the technical facilities. Credit: Roskosmos
An old school building in Uglegorsk.
As of 2014, the plan of the 140-hectare Phase I residential complex development included 12 buildings. A hotel was designed to accommodate 250 guests. Credit: Roskosmos
Artist renderings of the planned residential district in Vostochny. Click to enlarge. Credit: Roskosmos
An aerial view of the former military housing in Uglegorsk as of beginning of 2013. Credit: Roskosmos
By 2014, residential construction clearly lagged behind the development of technical facilities in Vostochny and was very far from glamourous designs adertised by the Kremlin. Credit: Roskosmos
Residential area in Vostochny in September 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Spetsstroi
First new district in Vostochny in October 2015. Click to enlarge. Credit: Spetsstroi
A small Christian orthodox church was founded in Uglegorsk around 2005 but the construction did not really start until 2014 due to lack of funds. The work was resumed in part thanks to donations. It was dedicated on April 18, 2016, on the eve of the first Soyuz launch from Vostochny. Click to enlarge. Credit: Spetsstroi