The mobile launch building at Vostochny

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At their new spaceport at Vostochny, the Russians are building a moveable launch building that will enclose their Soyuz rockets prior to launch.

Painted in elegant blue and white and standing almost 50 meters high, the Mobile Service Tower, MBO (for Mobilnaya Bashnya Obsluzhivaniya), is designed to provide personnel access to the Soyuz rocket during the countdown to liftoff from its launch pad in Vostochny. The structure can be also used to service the pad after launch and to process the rocket in case of an aborted liftoff.

With the tower in place, technicians can easily reach practically any part of the rocket as high as 37 meters above the surface of the launch pad. Internal access bridges of the tower surround the upper portion of the first and second stage, the third stage and the payload fairing.

The article also notes that “for decades, Soviet soldiers and officers and later their Russian civilian successors had to brave winter cold and summer heat preparing Soyuz rockets for launch on open-air gantries in Baikonur and Plesetsk. But in a sign how times have changed, the new generation of rocketeers will be protected from snow and rain with a climate-controlled tower completely enclosing the Soyuz rocket before liftoff from its newest launch pad at Russia’s Vostochny Cosmodrome.”

The irony here is profound. Big moveable buildings is how NASA has been doing it since Apollo. It is also what Boeing’s Delta family of rockets uses at Vandenberg in California. It is also why the Saturn 5 was and the Delta is so expensive to launch.

SpaceX abandoned such complicated structures in designing its Falcon 9, and instead decided to copy the old Soviet method of simple buildings for horizontal assembly and the simple horizontal transport to the launchpad. This appears to save a lot of money while simplifying rocket assembly.

That the Russians are now copying NASA’s more expensive but fancy mobile building approach means that, once again, their government is making decisions not based on efficiency but the prestige their political decisions can give them. From a competitive perspective, this is not going to benefit the Russia space effort, in the slightest.

But their workers will be more comfortable while they assembly those rockets!



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