Vostochny Cosmodrome: per corruption ad astra

logo russianconstruction.com
Vostochny Cosmodrome: per corruption ad astra
Tags: Photo source:

Russia has launched a new missile, the first from the Vostochny Cosmodrome.

On April 28th, the “Soyuz 2.1a” carrier vehicle was launched, on the second attempt, from Vostochny Cosmodrome. The launch carrier set into orbit the “Aist-2D” satellite vehicle, the “Lomonosov” scientific satellite from MSU and the SamSat-218 nanosatellite, so the first stage of the creation of the new space port on Russian territory has been completed successfully - and the constructors were mainly responsible for this.


Why a new cosmodrome?

In speaking of the construction of the new cosmodrome, it should be mentioned why it is necessary. It brings a number of significant advantages to Russia.

Firstly, Vostochny will allow the domestic space industry to gain independence in a whole spectrum of tasks, from scientific and socio-economic to manned space exploration programmes.  

Secondly, it will guarantee the fulfillment of international and commercial launches – everything will now depend only on the Russian party.

Thirdly, the Amur region will get a serious boost to development: a lot of jobs are being created, and investments will be attracted.

Fourthly, Vostochny will allow Russia to reduce its Baikonur (Kazakhstan) rent expenditures. Of course, this will not happen at once - manned launches will start from Vostochny in 2023. 

Initially, some experts were against the new cosmodrome’s  launching of civil missiles. In particular, academic Yury Semenov, the foremost Russian spacecraft engineer (one of the creators of the “Salut”, “Soyuz” and “Progress” manned space complexes, the “Mir” orbital base, and, before 2005, the  principal designer of RSC “Energia”), spoke negatively about the project.

According to him, the construction of the cosmodrome would turn into a cushy new job for officials and affiliated businessmen and at the same time a burden on the budget and the country’s economy as a whole. To tell the truth, the famous scientist was right to a large extent.  

But the authorities did not listen to skeptics and other “wimps who believe in nothing”. And really, why should they, if such money is at stake?

How it all started

In 2007, the construction of the cosmodrome was assessed as costing as much as 130 bln roubles. Then this sum, as it is quite often the way with us, grew. Here are the stages of its growth:  2009 — 400 bln roubles. In 2011, Roscosmos introduced a financial estimate to the Government of 493 bln roubles. In August 2015, Yury Koptev, former director general of Roscosmos and present chairman of the Scientific Technical Council of the Russian Technologies State Corporation (Rostech), claimed that the cosmodrome would cost an additional 560 bln roubles.

In total, Roscosmos was going to spend 900 bln roubles on the development of the cosmodrome by 2025. But the sum was reduced to 600 bln roubles.

The Vostochny Cosmodrome was started under President Putin’s order №1473с, dated November 6th, 2009. The whole order has not been published yet. To put it in other words, though the cosmodrome has mostly been built, the document is still secret. Actually, the construction of the cosmodrome started in 2011, when the development of the project began, and the construction work itself started in July, 2012. 

What were the builders to erect? The total area of the object is 700 km2. The construction of 10 technical and maintenance support sites is planned, besides which there will be a launch facility for a medium-class booster of increased payload capacity (up to 20 tons) as part of two launcher units. Besides this, there will be many different objects: an air field, an oxygen-nitrogen plant, a hydrogen plant, an energy supply system, 115 km of automobile roads and 125 km of railways.  

Though money was allotted generously, this is only half the battle in Russia. There are also terms – and the terms of the Vostochny Cosmodrome’s construction were compromised from the very beginning.

2011 saw the first failures, and they were so serious that the Roscosmos directorate informed the President that the first launch, planned for 2015, was at risk of failure. And thus it came to pass.

The design estimate documentation was 2 years late, and when it appeared, the pricing was half as much as Spetsstroy paid.

In 2013, the situation became critical: a number of objects were behind schedule by 18 months. As a result, several high-ranking civil and military officials lost their jobs.  

What has been done and what is still to be done

According to the deputy director of Spetsstroy, Alexander Mordovets, all construction work on the assembly and testing facilities of the technical complex has been fulfilled, which has allowed  for the completion of the autonomous testing of the technical complex. In one of his recent interviews, Dmitry Rogozin, chief supervisor of the largest-scale construction in Russia, stressed that Vostochny is the first purely civil cosmodrome in the history of Russia.

According to him, the first stage, the minimum required for a launch, has been completed. The construction of the first stage of the town of Tsiolkovsky will go on until the end of the year.

The vice-premier also said that after the first launch there will be a year-long interval, during which additional testing of the cosmodrome will take place. And in 2017 – 2018, the number of launches from Vostochny will gradually increase.


The second stage of putting the object in operation includes the completion of the on-surface infrastructure of the “Angara” state missile complex for launching satellites and manned spacecraft of the next generation into high energy orbits. Besides this, an airfield complex will be constructed.

The third stage includes the construction of surface object infrastructure for the launch of super-heavy carrier vehicles for expeditions to the Moon. It is from the Vostochny Cosmodrome that the “Federation”, the new space vehicle under development at Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, will be launched.

For now, the construction of the first line of the Vostochny Cosmodrome has cost 120 bln roubles. The big question is if all the plans Dmitry Rogozin speaks of will be implemented: judging by the economic situation in Russia, Roscosmos won’t be able to avoid financial restrictions in the coming years.

Vostochny versus Baikonur

Vostochny differs crucially from the legendary Baikonur, located in Kazakhstan. As for the future area, it is 6-fold smaller and more rationally built.  For example, there is a road alongside the railway from the assembly and testing facility to the launch site. At Baikonur, the missile is also delivered by train but the accompanying guard must travel on a very bad road. 

The new launch complex looks different, its service tower in particular.

Before the launch, the missile is inside the tower; at the very start, the tower moves along the rails.

There are some details in the launch complex’s structure that were developed at the beginning of the space era. For example, the mast system holding the missile on the launch site does not differ much from the one on the Baikonur launch facility. This is connected with the fact that the “Soyuz-2.1a” is an updating of the famous “Soyuz” missile.

However, the control system of the prestart service of the missile is absolutely new. All the processes are computerised, and the launch is controlled by an operator from his WS.  The Vostochny Cosmodrome is considered the most modern in the world. However, the command post is situated on the surface not far from the launch site (though everywhere else is located underground).


What’s nearby

There are two closed towns near the cosmodrome: the old Uglegorsk and the new technological city of Tsiolkovsky, which is currently being built.

If the name of Tsiolkovsky is self-explanatory, Uglegorsk’s (the town of coal) name is rather strange. There has never been any coal mining. The settlement was called so for reasons of secrecy. In times past, a Russian Strategic Missile Forces division was located there.  

In the 1990s the unit was deactivated, and in its place the Svobodny Cosmodrome was located. For 10 years of its existence, only 5 missiles were launched from there.  In 2007 it stopped operations, and the decision was taken to create another cosmodrome there – Vostochny.  

According to the plans, a large amount of housing and social objects are to be built there for the cosmodrome’s employees. Some houses have already been put into operation in Tsiolkovsky, and one may get from the town to the cosmodrome by bus. The first street was named Yury Gagarin, of course. 20,000 people are supposed to live in the town of Tsiolkovsky. 

But when this will happen is not clear: during a conference at the cosmodrome, President Putin, having arrived at the carrier-vehicle launch (which was delayed for a day because of an automation system failure), demanded that Tsiolkovsky be completed on time.

By the way, the President’s reaction to the launch failure was immediate: Vladimir Putin reprimanded vice-premier Dmitry Rogozin, delivered a strict reprimand to the head of “Roscosmos”, Igor Komarov, and Leonid Shalimov, the head of NPO of automation received a "service incompetence note"


Black holes

As is customary in modern Russia (and not only in Russia), every large-scale construction is accompanied by endless scandals, mainly because of salary delays and embezzlement.

At Vostochny, salary delays led to workers’ strikes. Even Dmitry Rogozin’s interference did not bring the required results: the Vice-Premier left and the money stopped being paid. Thus the debt to the staff of only one of the contractors – the Pacific Bridge construction company – totaled 108m roubles by February, 2016. If there are black holes in space, there must also be black holes at the cosmodrome, or how else may the disappearance of the money allotted by the state be explained?

The scale of the “Vostochny” corruption even surpasses those at “Sochi”. In September, 2014, two criminal cases of embezzlement of public funds were initiated by the Investigative Committee of Russia. The offices of the Federal Space Agency, “Dalspetsstroy” and “Ipromashprom” JSC, a Roscosmos affiliate, were searched. Some people were arrested on charges of using the allotted money for purposes not connected with the cosmodrome’s construction, which resulted in the infliction of damage to the Russian Federation to the tune of as much as 5.2 bln roubles.  

In particular, they raised prices for construction work.

The activities of 112 non-state-owned subcontractors of Spetsstroy was investigated. It turned out that 40 companies had no property, whilst 15 of them were off-shore and the name of the real owner was unknown.

So, new arrests are quite probable, and the President has spoken of this.


Despite everything

As a reminder, in 2012 individual estimate norms were allowed to be used for some objects, a measure which was happily applied by some construction companies who criminally conspired with some affiliate companies of the former directorate of the Federal Center for Price Formation. According to auditors’ assessments, the analysis of the results of individual estimate norms showed an increase on the estimated cosmodrome construction cost of 20%.  Thus, the authors of the only estimate standard for the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome received more than 300m roubles for its creation, which hugely surpassed the real cost of such work, as Andrei Filimonov, deputy head of the RF FAS, remarked.


Besides, it took only a few days for the authors to create the document, while any specialist in this sphere knows that such a feat is impossible. Why then was such money paid?

4 months without salary. We want to work


According to Tatiana Golikova, head of the National Audit Chamber, the theft at Vostochny surpassed 13 bln roubles. Russia really is a country extremes.

Nevertheless, having launched the new missile from the new cosmodrome, Russia has proven to the whole world that it is, in spite of everything, the world’s leading spacefaring nation. This gives us some hope.

We shall keep an eye out for developments in the construction of the Vostochny Cosmodrome.  


Vladimir GURVICH