Launch site

Artist's impression of SMOS launch
Artist's impression of SMOS launch

SMOS will be launched by a Rockot vehicle from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in northern Russia. Proba-2, one of the smallest satellites ever built by ESA, will piggyback its way into orbit on the same rocket.

Situated in the Archangel region of Russia at 62° 54' North and 40° 23' East, Plesetsk is Russia’s most northerly rocket base, used to place mainly military satellites into polar orbits, and the only orbital launch site located within European territory.

Surrounded by Taiga forest on the eastern banks of the Yemsta River, Plesetsk was founded as the world’s first operational intercontinental ballistic missile base.

Plesetsk Launch site
View of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome

At the end of the 1950s, four launch complexes were built there for the Semyorka R-7 launcher that continues today as the Soyuz manned vehicle.

In the early 1960s Russia needed a launch site that could reach militarily useful polar orbits inaccessible from Russia’s main site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

The job of selecting a site for a northern cosmodrome began in early 1962. At the end of that year, Plesetsk was selected and on 2 January 1963 Plesetsk was made a cosmodrome by Presidential decree.

Rockot launch tower
Rockot launch tower before GOCE liftoff

Until 1983, the very existence of Plesetsk was a state secret, but after the end of the Cold War it was opened up for commercial launch services. Today, Soyuz, Cosmos-3M, Rockot and Tsyklon vehicles are flown from Plesetsk.

ESA’s Earth Explorer gravity mission, GOCE, was launched from Plesetsk in March 2009.

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