Monday, July 19, 2010

Russia to invest US$810M in new space launch site

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KOROLYOV, Russia - Russia will build a new US$810-million space launch site as part of its efforts to defend its share of the increasingly competitive space launch market, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Monday.

Like in Soviet times, Russia dominates the global space industry, carrying out 37% of last year’s 78 launches around the world, according to the U.S.-based Space Foundation non-profit group.

But it faces growing competition from Europe, Asia and the United States as the market becomes increasingly commercialised.

Mr. Putin, whose ambition is to restore Moscow’s Soviet-era might, said the new Vostochny launch pad in Russia’s Far East region of Amur would be built in three years.

“I would like to stress that our task is to strengthen Russia’s positions in the global market of space services. We need to be competitive. The situation in global market is such that we will cope with this task,” Mr. Putin said.

“I hope that Vostochny will become the first Russian national cosmodrome of civilian use, that it will guarantee us full independence in our space activities,” he told a meeting of space industry officials.

The new facility aims to rival Kazakhstan’s Baikonur launch site when it opens for unmanned flights in 2015 and manned flights in 2018. Russia has been leasing Baikonur for US$115-million per year since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The current Baikonur lease ends in 2050.

Mr. Putin said the new launch pad would service all Russian space activity, including manned space flights, transport rockets and future inter-planetary missions.

Russia’s Soyuz manned spacecraft and Progress cargo vehicles have been the main workhorses serving the International Space Station (ISS) since the U.S. Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry in 2003.

The last manned U.S. space shuttle to the ISS is due to take off in 2011.

The government agreed to build the new site in 2007, at the height of the economic boom when the state coffers swelled with oil cash. But the project was delayed by the financial crisis.

Russia hopes to secure 15% of the global market in space services by 2015, said Anatoly Perminov, the chief of Russian space agency Roskosmos. He did not say what market share Russia currently holds.

Launches account for a small fraction of the US$261.6-billion invested in space services in 2009, according to the Space Foundation.

The satellite Industry Association said launches and ground equipment accounted for US$54.4-billion of the revenue earned by the satellite industry in 2009. The remainder was from the manufacture and servicing of satellites.

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