Russia is looking to the Far East to realise its space programme ambitions, with manned missions planned to launch from a new centre in 2018, according to the prime minister.
Vladimir Putin was speaking as construction began at the new cosmodrome site 3,600 miles east of Moscow in Russia’s sparsely populated Amur region.
The former Vostochny missile defence base, outside the town of Uglegorsk, is just a few hundred miles from China and will host unmanned Russian spacecraft launches from 2015. Putin said on the state-run Rossiya channel that the centre will host manned launches in eight years’ time.
Currently Russia sends manned space missions and commercial launches from the Soviet-built Baikonur facility in Kazakhstan, and military satellites from a smaller site in north Russia.
Although Baikonur is leased until 2050, and the country has paid Kazakhstan about $115M in rent since 2004, Putin said there was a “strategic” need for Moscow to have “an independent access to space” that is not owned by another country.
He described the new cosmodrome as “one of the biggest and most ambitious projects of modern Russia” which “gives opportunity to thousands of young professionals to use their talent”.
Space agency chief Anatoly Perminov said the launch pad will be 10 times smaller than Baikonur.