After several cases of corruption and mishaps, Russia plans to end construction work on its Vostochny spaceport next year. “We have to complete the construction in 2022,” said the head of the Roscosmos space agency, Dmitri Rogozin, according to the Interfax agency on Saturday. “Then we will start testing all systems.” According to the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin personally found out about the status of the work.
Construction work for 11 years
The spaceport is about 6000 kilometers east of Moscow and has been partially in operation for about five years. So far, only Soyuz rockets have launched into space from there, but according to Rogozin they should remain in use for a good ten years. Further launch ramps are being built so that newer types of spaceships such as the Angara can also take off. These systems should have been in place a long time ago. According to Rogozin, the Angara launcher is set to launch into space at the end of 2023.
The director of a company involved in the construction now admitted delays. Because of heavy rains, they are lagging behind the schedule, said Rawil Siganschin. “Only now have we started to work at full capacity.” Construction work on the complex began eleven years ago – at that time also with a time delay.
“Everything that is not ready will be stolen”
The spaceport on the border with China has been in the headlines for years because of corruption cases. Two years ago the Kremlin complained that billions of rubles had seeped into dark channels. Funds for the purchase of machines were therefore mostly embezzled. In the first phase of the investigation, 128 criminal proceedings were initiated and more than 30 accused were convicted, it said.
“Anything that is not yet ready will be stolen,” was the headline of the Kommersant newspaper in June. According to the newspaper, new investigations involved fictitious invoices for services not provided, for example when building a fuel store. Workers on the construction site complained that they were not being paid. In addition, deadlines for the commissioning of plants were not met.
One of the most ambitious projects in Russia
Only in March did a court stop construction work on the launch pad for the Angara launcher for 90 days. The reason given at the time was a violation of the building regulations. For Roskosmos that was new bad news at the time – his boss Rogosin in particular is repeatedly criticized in this context. At that time, he had taken over construction management as Vice Prime Minister in 2014.
The state company speaks of one of the most ambitious projects in Russia in the 21st century. The “best specialists in the country” are on duty. The spaceport located in the taiga measures a good 700 square kilometers – an area almost as large as Hamburg. Vostochny should bring thousands of jobs to the region.
Alternative to Baikonur
Why even Putin is interested in the construction site, which he last visited in 2019, is due to the strategic importance of the launch site: In the long term, Vostochny should make Russia independent of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where Yuri Gagarin was the first person to go into space in 1961. Moscow leases the land in the steppe in Central Asia and pays for it.
Vostochny is an alternative on Russian soil. From there, the European space company Arianespace recently brought more than 150 satellites from the British communications company OneWeb into space. They should ensure a better supply of fast internet on earth. In addition to Baikonur and Vostochny, Russia can also fall back on the Plesetsk spaceport in the north of the country, which is used for military purposes.