MOSCOW, January 9 (RIA Novosti) – Kazakhstan wants a permanent Russian presence at the Baikonur space center, the head of its space program said on Thursday, after years of argument between Moscow and Astana over Russia’s use of the site.
“Neither I nor any sane person in Kazakhstan wants Russia to leave Baikonur. We are partners and allies and at this level of international cooperation it’s normal to have joint strategic projects,” Talgat Musabaev said in an interview published Thursday by the Izvestia newspaper.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced last month that the leaders of the two countries had signed a three-year roadmap on the cooperative use of Baikonur.
Musabaev, a former cosmonaut, said if Russia was to leave Baikonur, Kazakhstan would “do everything possible to ensure Baikonur remains a gateway to space.”
He claimed Russian resistance to launches of Ukrainian-made Dnepr and Zenit rockets from Baikonur by Kazakhstan and its partners had relaxed following the appointment of Oleg Ostapenko as head of the Russian space agency Roscomos in October.
The newly-signed roadmap with Russia will hand ownership of the new Baiterek launch pad for the Zenit rocket to Kazakhstan, and requires recommendations be made to reduce the ecological impact of Russian heavy-lift Proton rocket launches beginning in 2016, he added.
Proton launches were suspended for three months following the explosion of one of the rockets shortly after liftoff in July that rained blazing, highly toxic propellants on the Kazakh countryside.
Russia is currently building the Vostochny space center in the Far Eastern Amur region, expected to open in 2018, to reduce its dependence on the Baikonur facility, which it leases from Kazakhstan for $115 million annually.