Russia building a new satellite launch center ("space port" or "cosmodrome")
in the Far East, in Amur Province, just north of Manchuria. This will replace
the Central Asian space port at Baikonur. Four years ago, Russia began
launching all of its military satellites from its Plesetsk facility, near the
Arctic circle. While Plesetsk's location is good for some types of launches
(high inclination, polar, and highly elliptical orbits), the place is frozen
most of the year, and more expensive to operate because of the climate. Plesetsk
is currently the world's busiest launch center, and has averaged about 35
launches a year since 1966.
breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, the other major launch site, Baikonur, has
been in the newly minted Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, where it has
become more expensive and difficult to use. Russia has leased the Baikonur
complex from Kazakhstan since 1991, but this has already led to disputes over
lease terms, and the danger to locals from launch accidents. The Russians need
the Baikonur launch site, as it is very efficient for some types of launchers
(geostationary, lunar, planetary, and ocean surveillance missions, as well as
all manned missions). But having your main launch site in a foreign country was
seen as untenable.
launch center in Amur, Vostochny, will be operational by 2015, and all manned
space programs will be moved to there by 2020. At that point, the Russians will
abandon Baikonur. Vostochny used to be Svobodny 18, an ICBM base that was shut
down in 1993 as part of the START disarmament treaty. Amur was ultimately
selected because of weather (it averaged only 50-60 overcast days a year, had a
dry climate and calm winds) and the absence of earthquakes. Construction won't
begin for two years, and first launches are not expected until 2016. Military
launches will largely remain at Plesetsk.
1990s, the ICBM silos at Vostochny have been used by retired ICBMs to launch
lightweight satellites. The nearby town, which used to house the missile base
families, has been kept in good repair and is being expanded to accommodate a
population of over 25,000. The new cosmodrome will depend on the Trans-Siberian
railroad for moving equipment and supplies in.