Russia will spend more than $50 billion on space research in coming years to reassert its leading positions in the field, said President Vladimir Putin.

The government will earmark 1.6 trillion roubles ($51.8 billion) for the space industry through 2020 to compensate for underfunding in previous years and catch up in areas where Russia is lagging behind, Mr Putin told a government meeting in Russia’s Far East after inspecting the new Vostochny (Eastern) launch pad under construction in the Amur region.

Mr Putin unveiled the ambitious space programme on the 52nd anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first human flight to space, which put the Soviet Union ahead of the United States in the space race.

The Russian leader called for a shift in emphasis from manned space flights to other programmes, where Russia was trailing other space powers.

“For many years we have given priority to manned flights… often to the detriment of other programmes. As a result, we are behind in a number of areas, such as remote Earth sensing, personal satellite communications, search and rescue systems. There is a big gap from other space powers in the so-called deep-space technologies,” Mr Putin said.

In recent years Russia’s space programme has suffered a number of setbacks, including the loss of several Mars probes and earth satellites. This has led to delays and cuts in other programmes, including an Indo-Russian mission to the Moon.

Mr Putin said the government was prioritising the construction of the Vostochny cosmodrome launched last year in the sparsely populated Amur region about 100 km from the border with China. The cosmodrome is to become operational in 2015 and will operate manned flights from 2018.

Russia will continue to lease the Baikonur launch pad from Kazakhstan, Mr Putin said, even while acknowledging that Baikonur, built in the 1950s, was getting outdated.

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