Russia eyes double rocket launches
Russia eyes double rocket launches from its new cosmodromeIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

In a bid to reduce its dependency on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russia is planning to increase the number of space launches from its Vostochny Cosmodrome to as many as five in 2018 and eight in 2019.

Located in the Russian Far East, the Vostochny Cosmodrome is on the last leg of construction, with final touches being given to the site, its technical complex and security systems. The spaceport, which is said to accommodate as many as seven launch pads, has played host only to a single liftoff (Soyuz-2.1a carrier rocket), but according to the head of Roscosmos State Space Corporation, Igor Komarov, its capacity will potentially increase to as many as eight launches in the next few years.

In a statement to Rossiya 24 TV channel, Komarov said: "As for the next year, we have plans to increase the number of space launches to four or five, while in 2019, we will start implementing commercial contracts with OneWeb, which are going to be signed, and increase the number of launches to six or eight."

Though Komarov wants to see the annual number of launches rise to at least 10, he reiterated that "under the current conditions, four to six launches are enough to ensure that the spaceport operates normally".

Still, the completion of Vostochny will be a major step towards reducing Russia's dependence on Baikonur, a site which the country has been forced to lease from Kazakhstan since the breakup of the Soviet Union. The agency plans to move 45% of Russia's space launches to Vostochny by 2020, with Baikonur's share dropping from 65% to just 11%.

The site is expected to see two rockets lift off in December. Then, after four or five full-fledged launches next year, it will host all missions (Luna-Glob, Luna-Resurs, Luna-Resurs with a cryogenic drilling rig, Luna-Grunt) planned under the Russian lunar programme, starting late 2019.

"A decision has been made that the entire lunar programme will start from Vostochny. Work is in full swing to make the spacecraft. All the contracts have been concluded and we are finishing the design mock-up," said Sergei Lemeshevsky, CEO of Lavochkin Research and Production Association - the developer of lunar satellites for Russia.