Processing facilities for the Energia-Buran system
At the very heart of Baikonur Cosmodrome, at Site 112, stood largest structures of the space center. A main assembly and processing building, known as MIK RN or MIK 112, was originally built for the N1 moon rocket. Due to the size of the N1 rocket, the building was used not only for the assembly of stages of the N1 rocket into a single complex, but also for welding of its propellant tanks. To accomplish this task, the Kuibushev-based "Progress plant", a prime-manufacturer of the N1 rocket, formed its branch in Baikonur, which was based at Site 112.
After cancellation of the N-1/L-3 program in 1974, the main facilities at Site 112 largely remained unchanged from the outside. Inside, however, the main assembly building for the N-1 rocket had to be totally refurbished in order to use it for the Energia-Buran program.
The new design of the Energia rocket required to rebuild the entire assembly, service and transportation complex inside the building. The welding and test equipment also had to be replaced.
Mythical life and real death of the Buran
When the Energia-Buran program also stalled in 1992, the assembly building at Site 112 had become a final resting place, (or a "graveyard" as veterans bitterly joked) for elements of as many as four giant Energia boosters.
In mid-1990s, a flight-ready Buran orbiter, which conducted a single flight in 1988, had been transferred to MIK 112, where it was mated with a fully-assembled Energia rocket. Site 112 became a popular stop for journalists and foreign tourists, who "invaded" Baikonur for high-profile launches. In one of high bays of MIK 112, visitors would be met with a stunning display of the gargantuan rocket and the orbiter, which looked all but ready for a rollout to the launch pad.
In 2001, this incomparable exhibit, combined with optimistic and mistranslated comments of a Russian guide, produced such a profound effect on a hungry-for-news reporter from the New Scientist magazine that he filed a story, claiming that the Energia-Buran program is about to be restarted! Western media picked up and widely distributed the report, proving that less than a decade after its death, the Buran had already became a myth.
However, more careful guests of Site 112 could notice water dripping from sky-high ceiling of MIK 112 on a rainy day. In the spring of 2001, as snow melted on the roof of the building and rains besieged Baikonur, pools of water could be seen accumulating on the floors under dead torsos of Energia rockets. The keeper of Site 112, who often showed reporters around the building, said that he can hardly find funds to send up repairmen to patch the giant roof.
One of such repair teams, believed to be including eight people, climbed on top of MIK 112 on Sunday morning, May 12, 2002. As witnesses report, around 9:20 local time, the entire structure of the building shook violently as in the earthquake and enormous pieces of the roof plunged dozens of meters below.
Post-Energia life of Site 112
In 1990s, the commercialization of the Soyuz rocket did involve Site 112. Starsem, a Russian-French company, which marketed the Soyuz to commercial customers decided to establish a satellite processing facility in the unused space of building 112. Starsem operations brought some revival into majestic complex, including European-style canteen serving mostly ESA personnel.
Sometimes, after 2001, Russia also hoped to move the processing of the Soyuz rockets and their integration with the Soyuz and Progress spacecraft to Site 112, however the roof collapse at the latter facility in May 2002 delayed these plans. Eventually, these operations had been moved to Site 112.
An unused processing and test site for the reconnaissance satellites inside MIK 2B had been disassembled in August 2004 and moved to Site 112, where it was reassembled. Plans were made to use this hardware for pre-launch processing of the Foton spacecraft, whose launches were moved from Plesetsk.
Stray dogs roamed the grounds at Site 112 at the turn of the 21st century.
An original fueling facility 3S dedicated to the N1/L3 project was completed at Site 112A by the end of 1967.
A separate Assembly and Fueling Complex (known as MZK) was built specifically for Energia-Buran program at Site 112A. It is 150 meters long, 80 meters wide and 70 meters high. The facility is built around a metal frame designed to withstand possible explosions during the hazardous operations.
After the Energia-Buran system is integrated inside Building 112, it is reloaded from the assembly stand on the movable erector and then transported to MZK at Site 112 for the installation of the pyrotechnic systems aboard the launch vehicle and for fueling of the orbiter with its propellants and gases.
After the demise of the Energia-Buran program, the Buran orbiter designated 1.02 and its test prototype designated OK-ML had remained stored inside the MZK building. Since the main doors at MZK were no longer maintained, the facility became a sarcophagus for both vehicles.
Site 112A also includes the Dynamics Test Stand, SDI, also known in Russian as Obyekt 858, which was designed for vibration tests of the Energia-Buran system in vertical position. It is the tallest building in Baikonur.
The N1 moon rocket emerges from the assembly building at Site 112. Credit: Baikonur Museum
The exterior view of MIK 112. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
Hardware for as many as four Energia launch vehicles remained mothballed inside Baikonur's Site 112 assembly building at the turn of the 21th century. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
|Starsem facility in low bay of MIK-112|
The Starsem clean room facility inside MIK 112. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
The European Cluster spacecraft during processing inside the Starsem clean room facility at Site 112. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
SDI and MZK facilities
The Energia-Buran system inside the Dynamics Test Stand. Copyright © 2000 RussianSpaceWeb.com
Dynamics Test Stand, SDI, for the Energia-Buran system. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
Dynamics Test Stand (center) and Fueling complex (right) at Site 112A. The Energia-Buran launch pads can be seen on the background on the left. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak