Model of launch complex for Soyuz-2 rocket in Vostochny Cosmodrome. Credit: Vitaly V. Kuzmin (http://vitalykuzmin.net).
It turns out, “spaceport” and “boondoggle” go together beyond New Mexico’s borders.
The Vostochny Cosmodrome, under construction in Russia’s Far East, is in trouble. The project’s purpose, according to Anatoly Medetsky of the The Moscow Times, is “to ease the country’s dependence on the Soviet-era Baikonur launch site, located in the wind-swept steppe of neighboring Kazakhstan and which Russia is leasing through 2050.”
But the cosmodore is behind schedule — manned flights are now projected to take place three years later than originally planned — and corruption at the site is rampant.
In June, The Siberian Times reported that a senior director “suspected of embezzling funds … has been arrested after going on the run. The 45-year-old Georgian national, whose name has not been disclosed, had fled Russia after being accused of taking four million roubles ($75,000). … Police in the Amur region put the shamed director on the international wanted list and he was located in Minsk, where he drove a luxury Mercedes car decorated with Swarovski diamonds. According to local media, it cost $300,000 (16 million roubles) to have the vehicle covered.”
A few days ago, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika announced that his probe of 250 cosmodrome contractors had uncovered “theft that caused 7.5 billion rubles in damages.”
It’s all an unfortunate mess for Russia’s taxpayers. But unlike “Spaceport America,” the “public investment” made in the cosmodrome could eventually produce significant revenue. Relations with Kazakhstan have been testy lately. And Russia has a long history of lofting payloads — launch vehicles in the R-7 and Proton families alone have flown over 2,000 times.