Putin Visits Vostochny, Tells Officials to Hurry Up

Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit:  Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin inspects construction at Vostochny. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russian President for Life Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the new Vostochny spaceport on Tuesday, telling officials there to get back on schedule, hire more workers and stay within budget.

“I would like to stress that at this point construction work at the launch pad and technical support facilities is lagging behind 30 to 55 days,” Putin said. He called for paying “due attention to that.”

According to the president’s sources, a little more than six thousand workers were present at the construction site every day.

“The actual demand, and the Roscosmos chief confirms that, is 12,000-15,000,” Putin said. He called for verifying construction work schedules and looking into whether they were complied with effectively.

“It is essential to rule out any delays and disruptions in its financing. Also, financing must remain under strict control. There should be no groundless overspending,” he said.

In a sign of Putin’s impatience with progress and the diminishing clout of Roscosmos, Putin gave Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin direct control over the construction project.

The new appointment is likely to keep the builders on their toes. While visiting the cosmodrome in February, Rogozin, who is the government’s point man for the space industry, announced that cameras had been installed throughout the complex so that he could root out slackers.

“Slackers who are not doing anything at work should know that I am watching them,” he said.

The plan calls for Vostochny to be ready to launch satellites next year and crewed Soyuz spacecraft in 2018. Putin wants the schedule adhered to while staying within the 150 billion ruble ($4 billion) budget.

Putin said Russia has poured 100 billion rubles ($2.67 billion) into the project since 2011, with another 50 rubles ($1.33 billion) planned through next year. The goal is to free Russia of dependence on the Soviet-era Baikonur Cosmodrome, which is located in the independent nation of Kazakhstan.

Vladimir Putin reviews a map showing the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)
Vladimir Putin reviews the plan for the Vostochny spaceport. (Credit: Presidential Press and Information Office)

Putin sees Vostochny as the foundation of a revived Russian space program that will eventually send cosmonauts to explore the moon and Mars.

“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….

“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.

Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko suggested to Putin that vision could be sped up by reducing the number of launch pads being constructed for Russia’s new Angara family of launch vehicles. Current plans call for two launch pads at Vostochny and Plesetsk; however, only two are needed.

“The saved funds may be invested into the super-heavy rocket,” Ostapenko said, adding that the image of a future rocket was already being worked on and production work might be launched next year.

The corresponding calculations and feasibility studies would be presented to the president later. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who is accompanying Putin on his trip, supported the Roscosmos chief’s proposal.

Rogozin announced that Putin has given approval to Roscosmos to begin work on a super-heavy booster capable of launching 120 to 150 metric tons to low Earth orbit and returning Russia to Soviet-era glory.

“Today, (Russia’s space agency) Roscosmos’ plans to begin the work on a super-heavy rocket were voiced at the presidential level for the first time,” Rogozin said, adding that on all previous occasions there were mostly informal conversations and discussions.

“In principle, one can say today that Putin gave a go-ahead to the beginning of this work,” Rogozin said.

This means, he explained, that after finalizing the entire family of the Angara rockets of light, medium and heavy class, Russian designers will focus on creating a rocket capable of carrying a fundamentally different payload.

“We shall be obliged to come close to creating this class of rockets immediately after 2020,” Rogozin said. “This would confirm Russia’s dominating role in matters related to the creation of a heavy class rocket and a return all the very best that there was in Soviet society. While discussing Vostochny space site-related issues, the president in fact supported this idea related with the federal space program.”

In a draft long-range plan recently leaked to Russian media, Roscosmos lays out a plan to have cosmonauts occupy a lunar base in the early 2030’s.