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The Vostochny cosmodrome: symbol of Moscow's struggling space sector
Moscow, Sept 13 (AFP) Sep 13, 2023
Russia's Vostochny cosmodrome, where President Vladimir Putin hosted North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Wednesday, has become a symbol of lingering problems in Moscow's space sector: from lengthy delays to rampant corruption.

Built in the Russian Far East near the Chinese border, it opened for launches in 2016 and aimed to reduce Moscow's dependence on the main space base of Baikonur, which became part of independent Kazakhstan after the break up of the Soviet Union.

Its latest launch was in August, when Russia sent the ill-fated Luna-25 to land on the Moon in its first lunar mission in nearly 50 years. But the module crashed due to technical issues, illustrating the challenges facing Moscow's space industry.

Putin -- who wants to maintain Russia's Soviet-era glory in space -- ordered the construction of a new cosmodrome on Russian soil, some 8,000 kilometres east of Moscow, in 2007.

Construction started in 2012 and was completed in 2016, after several delays in a project marred by corruption allegations.

In 2018, four managers of a company involved in the construction site were given sentences ranging from four to eight years in prison for embezzlement estimated at 1.3 billion rubles (just under 18 million euros at the time).

"I await a more responsible attitude from you," Putin said as he met officials at the construction site the following year.

The closest city to the cosmodrome is Blagoveshchensk, on the Chinese border.

According to Russia's Roscosmos space agency, the cosmodrome is one of Russia's "most ambitious projects of the 21st century."

Vostochny has a "mobile tower" on its launch base, which Roscosmos says is unique compared to other cosmodromes used by Moscow in Kazakhstan's Baikonur and Plesetsk in northern Russia.

The 1,600 tonne construction is 52 meters (171 feet) high and can launch rockets in "the most difficult climate conditions," according to the Roscosmos website.

During their summit, Putin and Kim also visited an assembly workship for a new generation of Angara launch vehicles under construction.

They are due to replace the ageing Proton launchers whose technology dates back to the 1960s.


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