Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives at Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amursk Region of Russia

Putin orders faster construction of spaceport

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered construction to be sped up on a multi-billion-dollar spaceport in Russia's Far East.

Putin flew in a helicopter over the sprawling building site in Vostochny where the new facility is being constructed to break Russia’s reliance on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

With Russia currently in conflict with Ukraine, the maker of Zenit and Dnepr rockets, the fragility of Russia's dependence on former Soviet republics in defence and space is being highlighted and building a new launchpad on Russia’s own soil is central to Putin's effort to reform a once-pioneering space industry.

"Our own space infrastructure and modern network of cosmodromes ... will allow Russia to strengthen its standing as a leading space superpower and guarantee the independence of space activities," Putin said at Vostochny, near Russia's border with China.

Russia has already ploughed some 100 billion roubles into construction of the new spaceport, Putin said, to replace the Baikonur site that it has leased from Kazakhstan since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and another 50 billion roubles is earmarked for the project through 2015, he said.

But Putin said construction was lagging behind by up to three months and the 6,000 workers currently at the site was half the number it should be.

"In the future, the capacity of the cosmodrome will be expanded ... to be used to realise programmes to explore the Moon, Mars and other space objects," he said.

Despite Russia's current financial woes, a senior official tasked with overseeing the space industry vowed the country would not back down from investment in space.

"Despite the decrease in budgetary funds and the pressure on Russia from sanctions, this plan is unchangeable," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters.

In July, Russia launched its first new design of space rocket entirely built within post-Soviet Russia's borders from the northern military cosmodrome of Plesetsk.

A potential commercial rival to Arianespace of France and Californian-based SpaceX, a heavier version of the modular Angara launcher is designed to replace Russia's workhorse Proton rocket, which has suffered an embarrassing litany of failures.

While it is due to be tested at Plesetsk later this year, Russia hopes to launch the new rockets from Vostochny, where proximity to the equator would allow for a 20 per cent heavier payload on launch vehicles.

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