Russia admits corruption shame of new space centre
The Russian Vostochny space centre (pictured), which has been pioneered by President Vladimir Putin, has lost around 11 billion rubles (US$172 million) and many of its managers have been jailed, according to the Kremlin.
Vostochny’s total cost is currently put at US$4.7 billion, according to Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency.
Russia’s investigative committee (SK) said 58 staff members had been jailed for embezzlement, swindling and abusing official powers.
The longest sentence of 11½ years was handed to Yuri Khrizman, the former head of the firm that constructed the space centre. He was blamed for the loss of US$81 million. The SK says it is handling 12 more embezzlement cases.
The Kremlin mouthpiece Tass announced plans to make seven launches of the UK’s OneWeb satellites from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, four from the Vostochny spaceport and one from the Kourou space centre in French Guiana next year, said Dmitry Loskutov, chief executive of Glavkosmos, which is part of the Roscosmos space agency.
The Vostochny site, around 80km north of Vladivostok on the Pacific coast was a “key part of Russia’s effort to re-establish itself as a space-faring superpower”, said Professor Mark Galeotti of the Royal United Services Institute.
“How can you deal with it without declaring war on your own elite? He’s not prepared to do that. This dependency on mega-projects almost invariably creates massive opportunities for embezzlement,” Galeotti added.
The location well away from big cities reduces the risk of rocket debris hitting any urban area.
Vostochny is intended to reduce the reliance on the ageing, 1950s Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan.
Having the main launch site on Russian territory is seen as safer for Moscow in the long term.
The new site aims to send crewed missions to the moon by 2030.
A second launchpad under construction will host the Angara, a new heavy-payload rocket, with the launch scheduled for 2021.
During a September visit to Vostochnyr, Putin said: “This is the country’s most important construction project of national significance.”
But Vostochny has been mired by corruption, delays, hunger strikes over unpaid wages and embarrassing mishaps. In 2017, Russia delayed the launches of Proton rockets after it was discovered precious metal alloys had been stolen and replaced with less heat-resistant products. Later in 2017, a Soyuz rocket launched from Vostochny crashed after technicians forgot to re-program its guidance system to take off from the new launch site.
Picture credit: Kremlin