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Kazakhstan Seeks to Hand over Baikonur from Russia

Monday 10 December 2012, by Babak KHANDANI

ASTANA (RIA Novosti) – Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan – base to Russia’s principal rocket launch centre – from Russian to local jurisdiction, the head of Kazkosmos (Kazakhstan’s space agency) said today.

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A Soyuz rocket erected into position at the launch pad March 24, 2009, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
(Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Baikonur has 15 launch pads for launching both manned and unmanned space vehicles and supports several generations of Russian spacecraft including the Soyuz, Proton, Tsyklon, Dnepr and Zenit.
Russia and Kazakhstan are working to build a new space launch facility at Baikonur, called Bayterek, to launch Angara carrier rockets capable of delivering 26 tons of payload to low-Earth orbits. The project is being implemented on a parity basis and enjoys tax and customs privileges.
Although Baikonur has always been known around the world as the launch site of Soviet and Russian space missions, from its outset in 1955 and until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the primary purpose of this centre was to test liquid-fuelled ballistic missiles. The secret name of the centre was State Test Range No. 5 or 5 GIK. It remained under control of the Soviet and Russian Ministry of Defence until the second half of the 1990s, when the Russian civilian space agency and its industrial contractors started taking over individual facilities.
 

“Today both nations’ governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers,” Kazkosmos head Talgat Musabayev told Kazakhstan’s parliament.

Kazakhstan has claimed reestablishment of the commission which previously oversaw the main aspects of the intergovernmental agreement on Baikonur, the site of the first Soviet rocket launches and Russia’s most important space launch centre.

The issue of control over Baikonur and the rent Russia pays Kazakhstan to use the facility have been the subject of ongoing heated discussions between the two countries ever since Kazakhstan gained independence from the USSR.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 the Russian space program continued to operate from Baikonur under the auspices of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The two sides signed an accord in Astana on January 9, 2004, extending Russia’s use of the space centre’s facilities until 2050. Kazakhstan ratified the deal in 2004, following Russia’s threats to suspend other space projects with Kazakhstan if it did not do so.

A Kazakh boy with a small camelRussia pays an annual fee of approximately $115 mln to use the space centre, which currently has the world’s busiest launch schedule, as well as $50 mln annually for maintenance. Nonetheless, last May, Kazakhstan blocked Russia from launching several rockets from Baikonur in a dispute over a drop zone for debris. Kazakhstan insisted this must be covered by a supplement to the main rent agreement. Finally, Kazakhstan agreed in June to let launches go ahead, following talks with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his Kazakh counterpart Karim Massimov.

The two countries have reportedly each allocated $223 mln for the construction of the Bayterek launch site under a 2004 agreement. The goal of the project is to facilitate operations of the Russian Angara rocket launcher which will allow launches with a payload of 26 tons to low earth orbit, compared to 20 tons using the Proton system.

Russia intends to eventually withdraw from Baikonur and conduct launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk Region and to complete construction of the Vostochny space centre in the Far East.

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