plesetsk cosmodrome

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November 28, 1966 - Soyuz rocket makes its inaugural flight.

Beginning an unprecedented reign of launch service, the Soyuz rocket was introduced 50 years ago today, on November 28, 1966.

Derived from the R7 class of missiles, which launched the world’s first satellite and human into space, the Soyuz featured upgrades and modifications allowing the launch of a new, heavier, three-person vehicle in development at the time. Over 1,000 flights have been performed under the Soyuz name, and have launched payloads ranging from the namesake Soyuz spacecraft, Progress cargo freighter, smaller modules of the International Space Station, Bion bioscience missions and countless satellites.

More than a dozen subvariants of the rocket have been developed in accordance to specific payloads or newer systems, but the overall design of the rocket has remained the same. Four strap-on boosters act as the rocket’s first stage, while the core ignites further into the flight as the second stage. While a third stage provides the final push into orbit for most Soyuz flights, some variants of the rocket, such as the Fregat and Soyuz-U, use additional upper stages to place their payloads into the proper orbit.

For most of its operational life, Soyuz only launched from Russian cosmodromes at Baikonur or Plesetsk; beginning in 2012, the launcher began flights out of the Guiana Space Center in South America, operating under contract to Arianespace. 2016 saw its first flight from the new Vostochny spaceport in Eastern Russia, where the rocket will finish out its operational life.

Soyuz is currently in its final production series, and, along with the Soyuz spacecraft, will be phased out in the mid 2020s for the Federation spacecraft atop Angara.

The final four images show a Soyuz-FG launching from the Guiana Space Center, two Soyuz FG rockets launching from Baikonur, and a Soyuz 2.1-b launching from Plesetsk Cosmodrome.