Baiterek Rocket and Space Complex to Contribute to Baikonur’s Development
On July 30, Russian Energia Space Rocket Cooperation signed a deal to build the Baiterek launch compound in Kazakhstan for Soyuz-5 next-generation medium carrier rockets. According to Anatoly Krasnikov, Russia’s State Space Corporation, Roscosmos, representative in Kazakhstan, the new compound “will help the spaceport get its second birth.” The Baiterek Rocket and Space Complex is planned to be built based on the Zenit-M launch site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
In 2018, Kazakhstan and Russia amended their previous inter-governmental agreements made in 2004 for the creation of the Baiterek complex at Baikonur Cosmodrome. The changes defined the responsibilities of Kazakhstan and Russia in the project, allowing the transfer of the Zenit-M facilities from the Russian side to the Kazakh side for upgrades. While Kazakhstan is tasked with updating the Zenit-M launch site in order to build the ground-based infrastructure of the Baiterek complex, Russia is tasked with developing Soyuz-5 and Soyuz-6 rocket carriers for their planned launch from the Baiterek complex in 2023. Russian President Vladimir Putin even suggested to name the new launch site Nazarbayev Start in honor of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
Kazakhstan leases Baikonur to Russia for about $115 million per year, until 2050. Although the Baiterek project began in 2004, the plan has stalled over the years. The project originally aimed to create a more environmentally friendly launch with the use of Angara rockets. However, Kazakhstan objected to the use of the rockets, citing costs, periodic failures, and toxic fuels. Russia then said it would be using Angara rockets at its new Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Fareast.
The following years were filled with debates over which type of rockets to use and arguments about funding. While the Ukrainian-made Zenit rockets were originally planned for use at the Baiterek Complex, Russia announced in 2015 that it would instead use Soyuz, Angara, and Proton rocket carriers. Funding for the project was expected to begin in 2019-2020, and on July 30, 2020, Energia Space Rocket Cooperation signed the contract for creating the Baiterek launch site.
While Russia wants to decrease dependence on Baikonur for space launches, as of 2019, manned launches took place only at Baikonur. The Vostochny Cosmodrome, built in 2016 – and beset by delays caused by corruption – was still unable to accommodate manned launches. However, the last military launch from Baikonur was scheduled for 2019 and all following military launches were to take place at Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia’s Arkhangelsk Oblast. Although Russia would like to become less dependent on the leased spaceport in Kazakhstan, Baikonur is an easily accessible option with enough infrastructure to accommodate different types of equipment and launches.
For Kazakhstan, the continued launches support its own aerospace and defense industry. In 2016, Kazakhstan’s senate ratified an agreement with Russia on granting special status to Baikonur, which will allow Kazakhstan to increase government presence in the area through the Ministry of Justice, National Security Committee, Border Service, and Treasury Committee of the Ministry of Finance. Increased Kazakhstani involvement in Russian space operations is expected if the Baiterek project continues and if its previous problems are resolved.