The massive Kazakhstan spaceport in Baikonur could see an end to Russian rocket launches.
Russia leases the space port from Kazakhstan for about $115 million a year, but the Kazakh’s have long complained of the physical damage done to the region by Russia’s rockets, and the risk of death and injury caused when something goes wrong.
The site measures some 90 kms in diameter and is almost 200 miles East of the Aral Sea. It was constructed by the Soviets in the late-1950’s and saw the launch into space of Sputnik-1, Yuri Gagarin and every other major Russian achievement. Baikonur was also home to many Russian ICBMs during the so-called Cold War although many of these silos have since been decommissioned.
These days Baikonur is home to Russia’s Soyuz, Proton, Dnepre and other rockets, and is also the last resting place of the restored Russian ‘Buran’ space shuttle (which only ever flew once). It is currently used for around 20-25 flights a year.
A fresh licence was signed between Russia and Kazakhstan back in 2004, and not due to expire until 2050.
But Russia is building a new cosmodrome near Vostochny, in the Far East and near the Chinese border but on Russian territory, and located on the 51st parallel. It is scheduled to be completed in 2018, but could be hosting test launches in 2015. It will be 30 km in diameter, and the location means that payloads carried by Russia’s rockets will be similar to those carried from Baikonur. Reportedly some 7000 workers are helping build the new facility.
However, Kazakhstan is now suggesting that if Russia does depart then it will manage and launch its own rockets from Baikonur.