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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Military Eager to Move All Satellite Launches Home

The armed forces are considering moving all launches of military satellites from the Baikonur Cosmodrome to Russian launch sites in order to cut their dependence on the "moods" of the Kazakhstan government, which imposed two launch bans at Baikonur last year, officials said Tuesday.

The bans were imposed after two Russian-made Proton rockets slammed into the Kazakh steppe in abortive launches that were carried out from Baikonur on July 5 and Oct. 27, 1999.

Most, if not all, Defense Ministry launch programs could be relocated from Kazakhstan's Baikonur to the Russian cosmodromes of Plesetsk, Svobodny and Kapustin Yar by the end of this decade, said an officer at the central command of the Strategic Missile Forces, or RVSN.

The officer, who declined to be named, said in a phone interview Tuesday the relocation could be completed as soon as the Defense Ministry commissions powerful Angara rockets, which will be able to place heavy satellites into geostationary orbits from Plesetsk. Existing Russian rockets have to use Baikonur to launch both satellites to geostationary orbits and manned spacecraft.

A lightweight version of the Angara rocket will be ready for flight tests in 2005, and it will take only a few more years more to complete the middle and heavy versions of this launcher, an official at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center said in a phone interview this week.

The Moscow-based center is busy developing Angara rockets and manufacturing the workhorse of Russia's space fleet, the Proton, which is used to launch defense and civil satellites into geostationary orbits.

The RVSN officer said the commander of his force, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, on Thursday presided over a meeting of defense commanders and civil space officials at Plesetsk to discuss relocation of launches from Baikonur to the cosmodrome in northern Russia.

The officer said RVSN top brass and officials from the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, or Rosaviakosmos, also discussed a draft federal program of development for Plesetsk.

He said RVSN expects the draft program to be considered and endorsed by the federal government in the next two to three months. Official endorsement of the program will be followed by the allocation of billions of rubles needed to complete construction of launch pads and integration facilities for Angara, Rokot and Soyuz-2 rockets at Plesetsk, the RVSN officer said.

Khrunichev's Rokot as well as Soyuz-2, which is also know as Rus and is being developed by TsSKB-Progress of Samara, are to become the core of RVSN's launch-vehicle fleet along with Angara, the officer said. He said the Angara's launch pad is being built on the pad initially designed for launches of the Zenit rocket, which has been developed by the Yuzhnoye design bureau of Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine.

"Introduction of these rockets will mean that we will no longer depend on any other country's will when deciding when and what to launch," the officer said.

Reached by phone Tuesday, officials at Rosaviakosmos said their agency, unlike RVSN, had no plans to abandon Baikonur. One Rosaviakosmos official said his agency will continue to carry out both commercial and government launches from Baikonur beyond the year of 2010.

The official, who declined to be named, said Russia presently has no "real alternative" to Baikonur when it comes to launches of crews to space stations or of heavy satellites, as it remains unclear when Angara rockets will be tested and commissioned.

Reached by phone Tuesday, officials at Kazakhstan's Aerospace committee denied their country had imposed "excessive conditions" on Russia in return for allowing it to continue to use Baikonur.

Khamid Agdeshev, head of the agency's aerospace programs department, insisted that Kazakhstan "has not done anything" to discourage Russian government agencies and companies from launching satellites from Baikonur.

The official said the two countries "are cooperating fruitfully" at Baikonur, but admitted that Russia may "theoretically" leave Baikonur once Angara rockets are introduced.

Baikonur has seen launches with inclinations between 51.5 and 70 degrees, as well as with 98 degrees. In comparison, Plesetsk offers inclinations of 81 degrees to 82 degrees while Svobodny has so far seen launches with an inclination of 98 degrees. Kapustin Yar has seen payloads launched only in a very limited range of inclinations, between 48.5 degrees and 49.5 degrees.

Plesetsk has come to account for 38 percent of all satellite launches ever conducted in the world, according to a RVSN statement issued last week. More than 1,900 satellites have been launched by 1,500 rockets from Plesetsk since 1966, the statement said.

In comparison, Baikonur saw more than 1,180 rockets launch more than 1,150 satellites, manned spacecraft and interplanetary probes from 1957 to 2000.