CryoSat was launched by a Dnepr vehicle from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This historic cosmodrome, built on the barren steppes of Kazakhstan, is still the world's largest space launch facility even after nearly 50 years.
Built in 1955, when Kazakhstan was part of the Soviet Union, Baikonur covers 6717 square km and extends 75 km from north to south and 90 km from east to west. The base contains dozens of launch pads, five tracking-control centres and nine tracking stations.
It was from Baikonur that the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, and the first human in space, Yuri Gagarin, were launched. More recent cosmonauts include ESA astronauts Roberto Vittori in 2002 and Frank De Winne in 2009, both on missions to the International Space Station.
Baikonur has been used for all Russian-crewed missions and for most lunar, planetary and geostationary orbit launches. Since 1993, Russia has rented Baikonur from Kazakstan.
For many years, the name Baikonur was misleading. The former Soviet Union used the name and coordinates of a small mining town to describe its secret rocket complex. This was done intentionally to hide the true location. In fact, the launch complex is about 322 km south-west of Baikonur town, near the railway station and village of Tyuratam.