MOSCOW – Russia will launch its manned space missions from a new center in the Far East in 2018, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Saturday, as the country seeks greater independence for its space program.
Putin made the comments as he inaugurated the start of construction for the new cosmodrome at the former missile defense base of Vostochny, outside the town of Uglegorsk, 3,600 miles east of Moscow, and a few hundred miles away from China.
Russia currently uses the Soviet-built Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan for all of its manned space missions and other commercial launches as well as a smaller center in northern Russia for military satellite launches.
Russia has a lease on Baikonur until 2050 and has paid around $115 million to Kazakhstan in rent since the agreement in 2004.
Putin stressed the “strategic” need for Moscow to have an independent access to space. Although Baikonur is located in a “friendly state,” it is still owned by another country, he said.
Russia’s prime minister said on state-run Rossiya channel that Vostochny will host all launches of Russian-manned spacecraft beginning in 2018. Launches of the first unmanned spacecraft from the new center are expected in 2015.
Putin described the construction as “one of the biggest and most ambitious projects of modern Russia.”