Moscow keeps reaching for the stars

Vladimir Putin will ask Europe to extend the lifespan of the ISS project, while Russia quickly finances a new cosmodrome to keep itself in the space race.


President Vladimir Putin on Friday told officials to beef up Russia's space programme and speed financing of a new cosmodrome in the Far East to keep the nation's leading role in space, Russian media reported.

"Now we have the real chance to move from exploiting and supporting previous, often Soviet, 'space capital' to carrying out new, ambitious projects in space," Putin told a meeting of the Security Council.

Putin was speaking on the eve of Cosmonauts' Day when Russia marks the first manned flight into space. Soviet military pilot Yuri Gagarin became a national hero after his 108-minute flight in 1961 which humiliated Cold War foe the United States.

Nowadays Russia's space industry, which prides itself on launching the first "sputnik" satellite into space, the first woman cosmonaut and first spacewalk, has been forced to fall back on sending tourists to space in a bid to raise funds.

Russia rents its main cosmodrome, Baikonur, from Kazakhstan and sends all crews and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) from there. Putin said time had come for Russia to have "a guaranteed access to space".

"This means to have a possibility to make launches for all purposes from our own land -- from automated satellites to manned spacecraft and inter-planetary stations," he said.

The new cosmodrome, in Russia's Far East region of Amur, will be called Vostochny and is set to be finished by 2015.

Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's space agency Roskosmos, said all Russian manned space programmes would be transferred to Vostochny by 2020.

Putin said other projects would include the development of Russian military, civilian and scientific satellites, as well as national satellite navigation system GLONASS.

Work should also be intensified on the new family of Angara booster rockets, Putin said, adding "the system must really become global and competitive". The Angara will be able to place heavy payloads of up to 24.5 tonnes into orbit.

But the tumult of Russia's 1990s wild capitalism and scarce financing held back work on Russia's segment of the ISS.

The 2003 disintegration of the U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia on re-entry dealt another blow to the multinational project, and Russia has born the brunt of sending crews and cargo to the ISS.

Space tourism helps bridge some of the gaps in Russia's space budget, fetching around $25 million from each tourist.

Russia intends to ask its ISS partners in Paris in July to extend the lifespan of the ISS by five years to 2020 because of the delayed construction of the outposts' Russian segment, a senior space official said on Thursday.

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