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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baikonur At Center Of Rocket Venture

Kazakhstan plans to set up a joint venture with Russia and Ukraine to sell launches of Ukrainian-made rockets from its Baikonur Cosmodrome, officials said Wednesday.

The venture also will allow Russia to avoid paying at least part of the hefty annual rental fee that it owes to Kazakhstan for utilizing the cosmodrome, space officials from both countries said.

The aim of the venture is to sell Zenit rocket launches to Western satellite companies, said a Russian official at Rocket Space Corporation Energiya in Korolyov outside Moscow, who asked not to be identified.

He noted, however, that the international launch market is already divided between intermediaries and Western space giants and it may be hard for the planned venture to win any formidable share of this market.

The deal to set up the venture was reached in early April at a meeting between Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Russian Space Agency director Yury Koptev and Energiya chief Yury Semyonov in Moscow. No details were released.

The deputy director of Kazakhstan's National Aerospace Agency, Nurlan Usimbayev, said Wednesday that the venture could be launched this year.

He said the Ukrainian firms that developed and manufacture the rocket will be part of it.

Neither Usimbayev nor the Energiya official would comment on what profits they expect.

Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov denied any knowledge of the plan.

While Russia's precise role in the venture is unclear, the main player will be Energiya, which designed and manufactured the third stage booster for Zenit-3SL. The rocket successfully launched a dummy satellite from a converted oil platform for the Sea Launch project on March 28.

As its contribution to the venture, Kazakhstan will write off some of Russia's $115 million annual rent for Baikonur, Usimbayev said.

Also, Russia will train two Kazakh cosmonauts in exchange for writing off more of that annual fee, the Kazakh space official said. Both cosmonauts will probably be trained to fly on the International Space Station, he said.

President Boris Yeltsin and Nazarbayev signed the Baikonur rental agreement in 1994, but Russia has failed to make the payments. Last year, Kazakhstan agreed to write off $460 million in rent owed for 1994-98.Russia is also required to pay $28 million a year for using Kazakhstan's military test grounds.

Kazakhstan has repeatedly asked Russia either to pay cash or supply advanced weaponry, such as Su-27s, for using both Baikonur and the military test sites.

Unwilling to part with hard currency, Russia has started to develop two launch sites on its own territory.