Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Saturday flagged off the construction of a new space centre in the Russian Far East describing it as the country's “most ambitious project.”
The new cosmodrome is to become operational in 2016 and by 2020 it will host all Russian manned space missions, Mr. Putin said inaugurating the start of construction work at the former missile defence base of Vostochny near the town of Uglegorsk, nearly 6000 km east of Moscow, and less than 1,000 km away from China.
The government has allocated 24.5 billion roubles ($800 million) for the first stage of the project, which will involve the construction of a heavy-duty airfield and a town for 40,000 to 50,000 residents.
Russia currently launches its manned spacecraft and commercial missions from the Soviet-era Baikonur space centre, which it has leased from Kazakhstan for $115 million a year till 2050. Military satellites are launched from the small space centre in Plisetsk in northern Russia.
Russia will continue to use Baikonur as demand for space launches kept growing, Mr. Putin said, but it was strategically important to have “independent access to space.”
The new space facility will “reassert Russia's status as a leading technological nation,” Mr. Putin said.