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RUSSIAN SPACE
Russia To Build New Space Center In The Far East
by Andrei Kislyakov
RIA Novosti political commentator
Moscow (RIA Novosti) Apr 16, 2008


File image.

In January, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said that 2008 would be a "landmark year for Russian cosmonautics". Now the Russian Security Council, which met in Moscow under President Putin's chairmanship on April 11, ahead of Cosmonautics Day, has defined where that landmark will be.

The Council said that the key program of Russia's space industry (at least as regards ground infrastructure) would be the construction of a space center in the Far East, which will provide Russia with an independent space window. The new space port, called Vostochny, will be built on the sight of a disused military space complex in the Amur region.

Nikolai Sevastyanov, a former head of the Energiya rocket corporation, has been put in charge of the project. In January 2008, he was appointed deputy prime minister of the region.

Sevastyanov faces a tall order. A modern space center needs launch facilities to orbit the full range of payloads, from small unmanned craft to high-powered space ships. This calls for a vast amount of surface and subsurface work. But launch facilities, important as they are, are not the greatest challenge. A modern city, complete with all its services and amenities, will have to be built, which, aside from a wide front of operations, means enormous expenses.

Meanwhile, financial irregularities and schedule disruptions plague all large Russian projects. It would be nice to think that the Vostochny project will be an exception. But two things should give us pause for thought.

In November 2007, when President Putin signed a decree converting the mothballed military space center Svobodny into Vostochny, the costs of the project were estimated at $7.4 billion.

But, commenting on the Security Council meeting, Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), said that full-scale construction in the Amur region would not start until June 2011 - four years after the original estimates were made.

In this situation, one cannot but recall a state-sponsored 2006-2015 weapons program drawn up and cost-estimated in 2005. In February 2008 - three years after the initial estimates - it was announced that price increases had made it impossible to complete the project in budget.

"Rising prices for the end products of the defense sector have made it impossible to fulfill the program either in the range or in quantity," said Valery Voskoboinikov, deputy head of the defense industry department at the Industry and Energy Ministry. He said the actual prices for weapons and equipment had proved much higher than the 2005 forecasts, due to a massive growth in the costs of materials and components.

Where is the guarantee that nothing similar will happen in the Far East, especially since Russian prices are far from stable?

But, even assuming that financing for Vostochny will be uninterrupted, it is not clear that the builders would be able to work fast enough to complete it to deadline.

Judge for yourself. According to the Roscosmos head, the first launches from the new space center are expected to take place in 2015. That leaves only three years for the whole project. This is a very tight schedule by any standards, even considering that 2015 is only the year the port begins to work.

Time will tell. For now, at least, Russia still has its lifeline - the legendary Baikonur space center - launches from which, under an inter-governmental agreement signed between Russia and Kazakhstan, will last until 2050.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

Source: RIA Novosti

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