The first and largest cosmodrome, Baikonur, has an interesting and eventful history.
The Baikonur complex was built in the 1950s on the vast steppes of Kazakhstan. During the Soviet period, about 1,000 carrier rockets with satellites and spacecraft for various purposes were launched from the facility. It is a big part of what made the Soviet Union the greatest space power on the face of the earth.
Since obtaining independence in 1991, Baikonur has been governed by Kazakhstan, even though it was originally planned to be shared by the newly created states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) along with other space exploration facilities across the former Soviet Union.
In 1991-1993, a number of intergovernmental agreements on cooperation in space amongst the CIS countries were signed, but they could not provide a real recovery of the lost space capabilities because of the unwillingness of the majority of CIS states to invest. This was primarily because of economic circumstances.
In 1994, the leaders of Kazakhstan and Russia reached an agreement on the lease of the Baikonur complex by the Russian Federation. But Kazakhstan, as part of its economic development aspirations, in addition to collecting $115 million per year in rent, gradually began to exercise its rights regarding Baikonur, which include joint space projects with Russia and the financing and development of new space facilities.
On Jan. 9, 2004, the presidents of Kazakhstan and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement on the effective use of Baikonur, providing for continued, mutually beneficial cooperation with Kazakhstan in joint space projects. In particular, the agreement highlighted the importance of modernising the spaceport’s infrastructure, the creation of new, environmentally safe space rocket complexes for the phased reduction of boosters, which use toxic propellants, joint work on environmental safety and solving environmental problems related to satellites and other space related activity. The term of the lease with Russia was extended until 2050.
In order to implement the above-mentioned agreement, on Dec. 22, 2004, the parties signed an intergovernmental agreement on the creation in the spaceport of the Baiterek space rocket complex for joint commercial and Russian and Kazakhstan state launches. In 2005, Russo-Kazakh joint stock company Baiterek was established to create new environmentally friendly space rocket complexes at the cosmodrome. The company employs Kazakh and Russian specialists and experts.
The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness and Alliance in the 21st Century signed by the heads of state of Kazakhstan and Russia on Nov. 11, 2013 reflects the mutually beneficial cooperation taking place in the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The parties agreed to develop their strategic partnership through sharing the Baikonur complex, promoting mutual involvement in infrastructure modernisation using advanced and environmentally safe technologies, implementing joint space projects and sharing responsibility for launch services.
During the Ninth Forum of Interregional Cooperation of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation in Pavlodar, which took place on Sept. 19, 2012 and the working visit of President Nursultan Nazarbayev to Russia on Oct. 9, 2012, the two leaders agreed to develop a “roadmap” for sharing Baikonur.
Currently, Kazakhstan is working on the implementation of this so called road map which protects the constitutional rights of citizens living in the city of Baikonur as well as on improving residents’ socio-economic conditions. This is largely happening through the 2014-2016 Comprehensive Plan for the Development of the city of Baikonur, the village of Toretam and Akai district. Kazakhstan is trying to find its place in the agreement with Russia. Kazkosmos, Kazakhstan’s space agency, is actively working with the Russian Space Agency to develop joint space projects.
At present, Kazakhstan is interested in producing both light and heavy launch boosters at Baikinor. The availability of small launch boosters will allow small satellites to be launched from Baikonur; such satellites will be manufactured at the assembly and test complex in Astana. A new space rocket complex for heavy boosters will ensure the successful phased reduction of the use of Proton boosters which use highly toxic propellants. Unfortunately, there are no alternatives to Proton boosters today and therefore, the only way to phase them out is to develop new ecologically safe space rocket complexes.
In Astana last July at the International scientific-practical conference “Kazakhstan and Space,” dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the first flight of Independent Kazakhstan’s first cosmonaut, representatives of foreign space agencies and organisations made presentations with innovative ideas and new high-tech projects on space exploration, including Baikonur. In particular, it is proposed to implement a space tourism project in collaboration with the French company Airbus Defence and Space, i.e. commercial suborbital flights with the use of the passenger spacecraft designed by this company.
Another major international project suggested is a space rocket complex for a super heavy class of interplanetary rockets for missions to study the Moon and Mars. Such projects are expensive and require the efforts of several countries. Baikonur allows Russian company RSC Energia and the Ukrainian enterprise DB Yuzhnoye, which both expressed interest in the project, to implement large-scale projects.
The National Space Agency of the Republic of Kazakhstan is doing everything necessary to create a full-fledged space industry that can meet the interests and needs of the state and society as a whole. Activities in this area contribute to the strengthening of national and information security and the socio-economic and scientific-technical development of Kazakhstan through the effective use of advanced technologies. Modern space activity involving global satellite communications and television, high-precision navigation, remote sensing to study natural resources, meteorological, environmental, and agricultural monitoring, mapping and so on are also common functions of Kazakhstan’s space agency.
We can confidently say that the space industry, which is one of the most high-tech, serves as an integrator of many scientific fields and as a manufacturer of products with high added value. The space industry will do a lot to help Kazakhstan develop in the direction the President is guiding the country.
The author was Deputy Chairman of the National Space Agency of Kazakhstan until it was merged into the newly created Ministry for Investment and Development.