Vostochny: A Spaceport to Nowhere?

Anatoly Zak has a fascinating article over at RussianSpaceWeb.com about how the Russian government is struggling to find a good use for the new Vostochny spaceport it is building at great expense in the Far East. Other government ministries — which are avoiding the project like the plague — have taken to calling the project a “dolgostroi,” which is Russian for an endless construction boondoggle.

Here’s a summary of the story:

  • Vostochny was designed to free Russia from dependency upon the Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in a foreign country, and to provide an anchor in the sparsely populated but strategically important Far East;
  • The new Rus-M rocket was to launch commercial and the larger, next generation human spacecraft from the new spaceport;
  • Roscosmos head Vladimir Popovkin canceled Rus-M after taking over the agency last year because it was redundant to the Angara rocket, which was finally nearing its first flights after nearly two decades in development;
  • Popovkin decided to bring the Soyuz-2 rocket to Vostochny in order to meet a political deadline of flying something by 2015;
  • This plan makes no sense for commercial launches because the Soyuz rocket has less lifting capacity from Vostochny than from the brand new launch complex at Kourou in French Guiana;
  • The Soyuz spacecraft lacks the ability to make high-precision emergency landings in the rugged, heavily-wooded terrain of the Far East, making Vostochny useless for human missions at present;
  • The 2015 deadline is unrealistic, with the first launch from Vostochny unlikely to occur until 2018 at the earliest due to construction delays;
  • The Russian military has no interest in the civilian spaceport, preferring to launch Angara rockets from its newly constructed launch complex at Plesetsk;
  • Just about every other government ministry — including the aviation agency, Rosaviatsiya — have tried to avoid any involvement in Roscosmos’ new spaceport.



  • I’m going to address a few of Zak’s point in the way you reformulated them, Doug. Zak threw quite a bit of innuendo into his article, but these at least can be debated.

    The point of not making commercial sense is obviously bogus, because things like Metop exist. If Kourou is the end of all things commercial Soyuz, then why did Metop launch from Baikonur? Because Kourou is managed by Arianespace, which is not the same entity as Starsem. Zak conveniently forgets to mention that increases in payload from Kourou are compensated by the fees required by the European partner.

    The point about the crewed launches is formulated poorly. I do not remember how Zak stated it, exactly, but the problem is not in the emergency landings, least of all the precision ones. It’s not like PTK can make any emergency landings with precision! The problem is in normal landings, which have to happen in Kazakhstan, not in the emergency ones. As long as landings must be in Kazakhstan, the independent access is not accomplished.

    The historic excourse regarding Rus-M is fascinating, but really it does not alter the need for the independent access one bit. In fact, switching to Soyuz makes the whole project more realistic, which is why I advocated it for a long time.

    If the first launch can be accomplished in time or not is not all that important for the country, although perhaps it’s important for careers of some wide-bottomed bureaucrats. It is only important that it does not turn into yet another 18-year project like Pad 35 and Angara.

  • Alan

    Regarding “Things like Metop”, the (expensive) delay to this year’s Metop-B launch caused by the Kazakh government complaining about stage drop-zones (quite likely politically and/or financially motivated) is a strong argument in favour of Vostochny.

  • Bill Clawson

    I am startled by the latitudes of the Baikonur replacement spaceports. Biakonur is pretty far south by comparison to Vostochny and Plesetsk. Guiana will be about the only place to launch Soyuz up to the ISS and other parts of the solar system.