: RFE/RL: Russia's path to space paved with missing rubles

09:26 Apr. 4, 2016

RFE/RL: Russia's path to space paved with missing rubles

Proton-M rocket booster blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, March 14, 2016 (AP Photo)

Russian space industry faces long tale of delays, corruption and management restructuring 

For the Russian government, when a Soyuz rocket lifts off from the Vostochny launch facility in the Far East sometime in April, it will mark the dawn of a new era in the country's storied space program.

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For others, the new liftoff site's long and twisting tale of delays, corruption, and management restructuring sounds a lot more like the past than a bright future.

Andrei Mazurin, the Roskosmos space agency's director of ground infrastructure, sounded like he was hedging his bets when discussing Vostochny's debut with journalists in Yakutsk on March 29.

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"I hope we will open the cosmodrome with its maiden flight in April," Mazurin said. "In 2017, we will most likely conduct no launches. In 2018 and further on, a small number [of launches] will be conducted, depending on the program."

The next day, Roskosmos head Igor Komarov told journalists in Moscow that Vostochny should "be prepared" for a manned space launch "by the end of 2023."

The bottom line is that the project -- hailed as the jewel of Russia's space program since its conception in 2007 -- will remain officially "under construction" for the foreseeable future. Vostochny is intended to become the country's premier civilian space center, largely replacing the Soviet-era base at Baikonur in Kazakhstan -- an independent country since 1991.

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The only existing space-launch facility within Russia, Plesetsk, is a military base and is too far north for certain types of missions.

As construction at Vostochny was getting into full swing in 2012, Yury Semyonov, one of Russia's leading rocket designers and a member of the Academy of Sciences, was asked his opinion of the Vostochny project. "Negative," he said. "It is obvious that it will be a feeding trough for bureaucrats. And much too heavy a burden for the economy."

Just how heavy that burden ends up being may never be known.

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