1980 Plesetsk launch pad disaster

The 1980 Plesetsk launch pad disaster was the explosion of a Vostok-2M rocket carrying a Tselina-D satellite during fueling at Site 43 of the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Mirny at 19:01 local time (16:01 GMT) on 18 March 1980, two hours and fifteen minutes before the intended launch time. 44 people were killed in the initial fire and four more soon died in the hospital from burns.

1980 Plesetsk launch pad disaster
1980 Plesetsk launch pad disaster memorial in Mirny (1989 photo) (cropped).jpg
Memorial to victims of the disaster
Date19:01 MSK (16:01 GMT) 18 March 1980
LocationPlesetsk Cosmodrome Site 43
48 dead[a]
87 injured (43 seriously)

Sequence of eventsEdit

On 17 March the rocket was installed at the launch site. Various preliminary tests conducted before the fueling went as expected and without problem. The launch of the rocket was scheduled to take place at 21:16 on 18 March. Several hours before the intended launch, the tanks were filled with kerosene at 19:00 and preceded by the addition of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen to side tanks. After the addition of hydrogen peroxide was completed, a huge explosion at the site was witnessed at 19:01 MSK; 44 people in the area were killed instantly and another 43 required hospitalization for burns, four of whom later died while in the hospital. Many of the survivors suffered severe burns and lung damage. Over 80% of surviving eyewitnesses to the disaster reported that the first explosion originated from Block E of the rocket and was followed by multiple secondary explosions. The 300 tons of fuel destroyed the launch pad and surrounding area.[1][2]


Initial investigationEdit

The official investigation responsible for determining the cause of the disaster headed by Leonid Smirnov assigned blame to the crew that was killed at the site of the fire by specifically stating the official cause as "explosion (inflammation) of material soaked in liquid oxygen as a result of unauthorized actions of one of the members of the ground crew". However, less than a year later, on 23 July 1981 after a second disaster of the same cause was narrowly avoided, it was discovered that a design flaw in the fuel filters of the rocket were likely the cause of the 1980 disaster, although it was impossible to confirm which type of filters were used in the rocket that exploded. The catalytically active lead solder on the filters would cause an explosion upon contact with hydrogen peroxide.[1][3][4]


The disaster was not reported in Soviet media at the time and only reached western media outlets in 1989 upon declassification. Pravda reported that the launch of the rocket was a success and did not say anything about the explosion.[5][6][7]


  1. ^ Initially after the events were declassified the New York Times and several other sources reported 50 deaths instead of 48; after more information about the event became available the death toll was amended to 48.


  1. ^ a b Взрыв 1980 года [The explosion of 1980]. www.plesetzk.ru. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  2. ^ Взрыв ракеты-носителя "Восток" на космодроме Плесецк (1980) [The explosion of the 'Vostok' carrier rocket at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome]. РИА Новости (in Russian). 2015-03-18. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  3. ^ Shteinberg, Alexander S. (2008-09-26). Fast Reactions in Energetic Materials: High-Temperature Decomposition of Rocket Propellants and Explosives. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9783540788614.
  4. ^ Медаль 'За отсутствие состава преступления' - 20 лет катастрофе на космодроме Плесецк [Medal 'for the lack of Corpus Delicti' - 20 years Plesetsk Cosmodrome Catastrophy]. Kommersant. 2000-03-18. Archived from the original on 21 March 2020.
  5. ^ "Soviet rocket blast left 48 dead". news.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  6. ^ "1980 Soviet Rocket Accident Killed 50". New York Times. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  7. ^ Guardian Staff; agencies (1999-10-28). "Space disasters - a timeline". the Guardian. Retrieved 2018-05-28.

Coordinates: 62°55′43″N 40°27′24″E / 62.92861°N 40.45667°E / 62.92861; 40.45667