Some 40 years ago, Plesetsk Cosmodrome was one of the most secret places in the world. It came to be known as "Object Angara".
Today, Plesetsk which is still relatively unknown compared to other orbital launch sites such as Baikonur and Cape Canaveral is in fact the closest orbital launch site to Western Europe and the only orbital launch site on the European continent. It is located some 800 km to the north-east of Moscow and approximately 200 km south of Archangel at a latitude of 63 degrees north and a longitude of 40 degrees east. From its humble beginnings at the height of the cold war in January 1967, Plesetsk has to date launched more objects into orbit than any other launch site in the world.
The base became operational in 1960 for ballistic missiles with the completion of launch pad no.1. Launch pads nos. 2, 3 and 4 followed in July 1961. By 1964, up to 15 launch areas were available for the R-7A, R-9A, R-16 and R-16A missiles.
Civilian use of the site for scientific missions started as early as 1963. The geographical location made it possible to launch rockets into orbits that could not be reached from Baikonur, for example into polar orbits.
Today, the base that was built for testing and deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles is increasingly being used for international scientific missions. The site has an area of 1752 sq km (46 km long, 82 km wide) and took its first step into the age of cosmic exploration on 17th March 1966. A Vostok rocket was used to put the satellite "Cosmos 112" into earth orbit.
In the following years, the Cosmodrome was steadily expanded and modernised. By the end of the 1960s, launches were being carried out with Cosmos and Cosmos-3M rockets and from 1977 also with the Cyclone-3 launcher. Today Plesetsk offers launch areas for Molniya, Soyuz, Cyclone-3, Cosmos-3M and most recently the SS-19 based Rockot launch vehicle following a major investment for the Eurockot Launch Services joint venture by EADS and Khrunichev to modernize and expand dedicated facilities for this small launcher. Meanwhile, some 1600 launches have been carried out from Plesetsk, corresponding to some 40 % of all launches world-wide. Some 2000 satellites, space vehicles or probes, i.e. 60 % of all those launched world-wide, were lifted to an earth orbit as single or multiple payloads or were sent on their way to other planets.
By a decree of the Russian President on 11th November 1994, Plesetsk became a state-operated Cosmodrome, but remained under the command of the Russian military units responsible for strategic missiles.