For decades, the Baikonur Cosmodrome was the premier Soviet space launch site. Many historic launches took place there, and it earned its place in the history books. But then the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, and Kazakhstan (where it is located) became Russia's new best friend. While I don't know the details of the agreement, I do know that Kazakhstan leases it to Russia, and Wikipedia says the lease will extend to about 2050, by which time Baikonur will be nearing 100 years old. But Russia is still in an awkward situation - for Americans, it would be like having Cape Canaveral in Quebec. I know the Russians are building the Vostochny Cosmodrome (courtesy of TildalWave here), but it's not meant to replace Baikonur. So for those who didn't bother to read through this morass of text, my question is this:

Are the Russians planning to replace the Baikonur Cosmodrome?


2 Answers 2


Although it is quite difficult to give a definite and documented answer about Russian Space Program and Russian politics in general, I'm trying to express some considerations that could someway answer your question.

Considerations against Baikonur's replacement:

  • ISS access: With the end of the Space Shuttle Program, Baikonur is the only launch site which supports crewed missions to the ISS. This means that any country participating in the ISS program has to rely on Russians to reach the ISS and Russians are getting paid huge amounts of money for this (about $70 million per astronaut from USA), without mentioning the political power they have gained. By the way, the ISS orbit was chosen to be accessible from the USA (Cape Canaveral), from European operated spaceport in South America (Kourou, French Guyana), Japan (Tanegashima Space Center) and from Russia (Baikonur, precisely).

  • Current agreements and development plans: As you pointed out, Russia already has an agreement with Kazakhstan for the lease of the cosmodrome until 2050 at $115 Million a year. The agreement was signed in Astana on January 09, 2004 and was ratified by the Kazakh parliament in April 2010. In addition, Russia and Kazakhistan are planning to renew Site 250 at Baikonur to launch Angara rockets.

  • Possible alternatives: Ok, Russia is huge, but not all places are good to build a Spaceport. An ideal place would be as close to equator as possible (quite a problem in Russia), it would have usually clear skies and good weather (also a problem in the majority of Russia), not too close to population centers (this may be easier).

  • History: Baikonur is the oldest (and largest) cosmodrome in the world and it is steeped in history. A lot of historical events took place here, including the Sputnik 1 flight, the Yury Gagarin's flight and the first flight with a woman onboard (Valentina Tereškova), so I guess the location is also significant for propaganda reasons.

Considerations in favour of Baikonur's replacement:

  • Independence: Although a long term agreement between Russia and Kazhakistan is in place, I believe that Russia would be glad to stop relying on foreign countries for its space program. Russia is indeed building a new cosmodrome, Vostochny, and planning to expand Plesetsk cosmodrome in this sense. So a sort of "nationalization plan" of space launches seems to be ongoing in Russia.

  • Age: Baikonur was founded in 1955. As you pointed out, it will be almost 100 years old at the end of the current agreement. In addition, a lot of launch pads are currently inactive, so they wouldn't need to be replaced in a new cosmodrome.

Conclusion: Comparing the two groups of considerations I would conclude that Baikonur will continue to be an active cosmodrome for a long time and its replacement is anything but probable and imminent. At most the total number of launches will decrease in favour of Plesetsk and Vostochny. Again, this is more a personal opinion based on investigations on the web rather than a definite answer.

  • $\begingroup$ Should have said this before, but great answer. Really comprehensive; just what I wanted. $\endgroup$
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Oct 8, 2014 at 14:55

Astro Watch published an article "Russia to Continue Baikonur Use Along with New Vostochny Spaceport" . It says:

• Roscosmos have the contractual obligations, they pay the rent for the land allotted for the space infrastructure. The lease agreement expires in 2050.

• Another spaceport - Vostochny - is now under construction and its first priority goal is to ease the burden on Baikonur that currently accounts for 80% of Russia’s space activity.

• Under the current Russian space program, Baikonur remains a busy spaceport, with numerous commercial, military and scientific missions being launched annually.

• All manned Russian spaceflights are launched from Baikonur.

Lorenzo already mentioned most of the points and I agree with his conclusion that with new spaceceports Russia will decrease burden on Baikonur.


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