The caption given in the third image included in the Space.com page Expedition 56: The Space Station Mission in Photos reads as follows:

At the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad, remote-controlled cameras are set up to capture every angle of the Soyuz MS-09 launch carrying the Expedition 56 crew to the International Space Station on Jun. 6, 2018.

But there is no clue to the purpose of this array of what looks like hundreds of roughly one meter tall white posts spaced at roughly one meter on what looks like a hexagonal grid pattern.

Question: What are they and what is their purpose? Are they distinct to this site, or are there similar things at other launch facilities as well?

enter image description here

Click for full size.

update: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexagonal_lattice the orientation looks the same as the one on the right:

hexagonal lattice 1 or hexagonal lattice 2

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    $\begingroup$ It looks a lot like some sort of memorial? If it’s something more practical then possibly sound suppression? Kinda far fetched, I know! $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 8:00
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    $\begingroup$ I've edited my related question with some updates that unfortunately confuses more. You could add that to the question if you like or I could post a partial answer $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 15:43
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    $\begingroup$ They're too crumbly to be a memorial. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 24 '18 at 19:14

Those pillars intended to decrease a damage if a launcher falls just on start.

The only mention of this I found is in russian language blog post about a travel to Baikonur:

Внизу, чуть в стороне, поле, утыканное бетонными столбиками, если ракета падает на старте, пусть лучше разломается на этих столбиках – разрушений при взрыве будет меньше.

Below, slightly to the side, the field with concrete columns, if the rocket falls at the start, it's better to break on these columns - there will be less destruction during the explosion.

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    $\begingroup$ izi.travel/it/… $\endgroup$ – Pavel Bernshtam Jun 24 '18 at 8:41
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    $\begingroup$ That's great! It took me a minute to understand that image, I've been living near the equator for so long that I've forgotten what snow looks like! $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 24 '18 at 8:43
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    $\begingroup$ Really interesting! Could you suggest in what way the pillars would help reduce damage? $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ That's highly unlikely. A field of 40x40 meter located 180 m from the site wouldn't do any difference in case of a failing rocket. $\endgroup$ – asdfex Jun 24 '18 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ Turns out this is actually right - it protects the building underneath. $\endgroup$ – asdfex Jun 25 '18 at 8:44

I found this article on the site of the Russian news agency Vesti.

Подземный бункер пуска - самое близкое к старту место. Над ним специальные бетонные столбики, так называемые волнорезы, чтобы ударная сила не повредила этот стратегический объект.

The underground bunker is the closest place to start. Above it are special concrete columns, so-called breakwaters, so that the impact force does not damage this strategic object.

It's the control bunker for the rocket start.

Here is a chapter (in Russian) from the book by Boris Chertok "Rockets and people" about the bunker. Although the pillars are not mentioned there.

There is mentioned that the bunker wasn't necessary at the moment, launch control could be done from further distance, but the military insisted to build the bunker.

The English translation of the book is available on the NASA site (4 volumes), the translated chapter is here (thanks to @Organic Marble!)

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    $\begingroup$ That would make more sense than some of the other answers. Obviously the ground is more than capable of breaking up a crashing rocket. However, if you have some vested interest in that particular section of ground not getting disturbed as badly, you might take extra steps. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jun 24 '18 at 22:14
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds promising! They could still provide sound suppression as suggested by @Hobbes. I wonder if we can identify an entrance in one of the images... $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ Now that I look harder at the images in my answer, the blue structure at the top left of the grid looks a lot like an entrance to a bunker! $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 22:20
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    $\begingroup$ "волнорезы" --> wave-breakers $\endgroup$ – Peter M. - stands for Monica Jun 25 '18 at 15:23
  • $\begingroup$ If the military insisted to build a bunker that wasn't necessary at the moment, it might be the bunker should not protect against exploding rockets, but against exploding bombs from an enemy. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Jun 27 '18 at 10:47

I believe we haven't found the whole story yet so I'll post as a partial answer for the moment.

Looks like we may have found the answer! I'll leave this for anyone interested in some extra information or my rambling speculations.

Soyuz MS-09 launched from Baikonur LC-1 Gagarin's Start which is shown below. I've highlighted the flame trench (green), outbuildings (yellow) and what I believe are the pillars (red).

Soyuz typically launches roughly East-North-East from Baikonur and only begins its pitch-over some 20 seconds into the flight; the pillars seem to be some 150-200 metres North of the launchpad and quite a small target, making it seem very unlikely they are for controlling falling debris. However, I found a further (unsubstantiated) comment that corroborates this purpose (Google translated - note 'rocket' and 'missile' seem to translate the same):

In the foreground of the pile. This is one of the security measures for emergency situations during the launch of the missile. They serve as a sort of "dissector". In the event of a crash, a missile (and, or debris), falling on a field of often spaced concrete pillars, collapses, the radius of debris scattering on the surface decreases.

Furthermore, the flame trench is (intentionally) directed away from any buildings and some of the buildings are clearly not protected in any way by the pillars from the flame trench.

As pointed out by OrganicMarble, it could simply be the remains of the foundations of a demolished building. Or it could be the foundations of a structure yet to be built.

Speculation: The pillars also reminded me of the Holocaust Memorial and I considered that this may be something similar. However, I believe the largest loss of life at Baikonur was the Nedelin Catastrophe in which 78 people died. There are far more than 78 pillars (possibly not important) and that incident already has a memorial.

I realise this seems mostly just a rebuttal to the other answers, but I'm just documenting my investigation thus far.

Annotated google maps image showing launchpad location

The pillars can be clearly seen in the background of this photo from Soyuz TMA-18M in 2015:

Aerial photo of Gagarin's Start

  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking foundation of something that got blown up. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jun 24 '18 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble I guess that's possibly, but most of them seem a fairly consistent height and undamaged which I wouldn't expect post-demolition $\endgroup$ – Jack Jun 24 '18 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ In the closeup in my answer you can see the posts are not rectangular, they are tapered toward the top. That's not something you see in pilings used as building foundations. Your second photo makes my answer unlikely: too many structures not in the lee of those pillars. $\endgroup$ – Hobbes Jun 24 '18 at 19:10
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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble oh, they're synonymous; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hexagonal_lattice $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jun 24 '18 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ To add to your investigation/summarization, Looking at other photos, we can also notice that they have at least two distinct heights, which must mean something too. $\endgroup$ – Kromster Jun 25 '18 at 6:17

Now that @Heopps found the actual function, I can add a few words about how they work. In case of a rocket failure, huge parts of the structure of the rocket may fall down, such as the LOX tank. Upon impact, it will break open and explode. If it already touched the ground, this will create huge shock waves in the soil, possibly damaging the bunker below. The pillars can break the tank already half a meter above ground, so that the explosion will take place mid-air. This allows the gases to expand substantially more, decreasing the force impacting the ground.

(Please feel free to merge this into your answer, it just was too long as a comment)


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