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.