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Russia to cease leasing Zenit-M launching site at Kazakhstan's Baikonur 24 июня 2014, 14:55

Zenit-M rocket launching complex will become a Kazakhstan property on January 1, 2015, effectively ending Russian lease.
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Baikonur Cosmodrome ©REUTERS Baikonur Cosmodrome ©REUTERS

Zenit-M rocket launching complex will become Kazakhstan’s property on January 1, 2015, Tengrinews correspondent reported from yesterday's government meeting in the lower chamber of the Parliament.  The announcement was made by the Chairman of the National Space Agency KazCosmos Talgat Mussabayev.

“We have already approved the list of facilities of Zenit-M launching site that will be excluded from the lease agreement with Russia, and have obtained the technical and administrative documents from Russia that Kazakhstan needs to operate Baiterek complex. Withdrawal of Zenit-M facilities from the Russian lease agreement and their transfer to Kazakhstan is scheduled for January 2015,” Musabayev said.

In order to ensure proper transfer of the facilities and continue their operation afterword, 49 Kazakh experts are undergoing a practical training in maintenance and operation of Zenit-M site facilities. Their training will be completed before the end of the year. 

Zenit-M launching site is part of a Kazakh-Russian joint space project. On 22 December 2004, the two countries signed a contract establishing Baiterek JV, a 50-50 joint project that involved construction of the Baiterek launching complex for Russian Angara heavy rocket.

Kazakhstan wanted to transit to Angara rocket to reduce the number of launches of hazardous heptyl-fueled Proton rockets from its territory and have a share in the launching pad to get a share of the revenue from commercial launches.

Angara uses kerosene as fuel and oxygen as the oxidiser and can carry a payload even larger then that moved by Proton, which makes it a promising substitute. But Angara still needed some development whereas Proton is fully functional and has proved itself stable. Besides Russia is not particularly eager to invest into Baikonur, the space center it doesn't own.

Baikonur is the world's first and largest operational space launch facility located in the middle of Kazakhstan steppes. It is leased off to Russia by Kazakhstan until 2050. 

With the decision-making greatly complicated by 50-50 ownership and cost overruns, the Baiterek project stalled in 2010. After that Russia released a plan to build a launch pad for Angara booster in a different space center - Vostochny - that is located in Russia and owned by it.

In 2013 Kazakhstan had to agree to use Zenit carrier rocket for its Baiterek pad instead of Angara with is why the pad is now referred to as Zenit-M launching complex. Zenit has a smaller payload then that of Proton, but it does not use toxic heptyl fuel and has already proved itself reliable.

Zenit is a Ukrainian rocket, so its use in the Kazakh-Russia joint project requires a trilateral agreement with Ukraine that is at odds with Russia.

Taking Zenit-M under control would allow the Kazakhstan to continue implementing the Baiterek project and possibly help it secure an agreement with Ukraine. At the same time it would relieve Russia from the cumbersome obligations at the space center it doesn't own. 

This is a chance for Kazakhstan to show its worth and claim a place among the world's space powers, however, it is unclear how Kazakhstan is planning to proceed with the project since it lacks the technology and experience to develop a launching pad on its own. 

Reporting by Assel Satayeva, writing by Dinara Urazova, editing by Tatyana Kuzmina

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