Rogozin Assures Baikonur OK Despite Political Turmoil in Kazakhstan

Rogozin Assures Baikonur OK Despite Political Turmoil in Kazakhstan

The head of Russia’s space agency tweeted today that the situation at the Baikonur Cosmodome is calm despite the political turmoil in Kazakhstan. Russia pays Kazakhstan for use of the cosmodrome, built when the country was part of the Soviet Union.

What began Sunday as local protests over government-mandated fuel price increases has exploded into a revolt against the Kazakh government centered in its largest city and formerly its capital, Almaty. The New York Times reports that Kazakh president Kassym-Jomart Tokayev has called on the Russia-led equivalent of NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), to help the country “overcome this terrorist threat” and Russia is sending peacekeeping troops.

The Baikonur Cosmodrome was the Soviet Union’s first space launch site used not only for Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth, but Yuri Gagarin’s Vostok 1, the first human to orbit the Earth. Today Baikonur continues to be the only location for launching Russian human spaceflight missions and other flights to International Space Station, not to mention satellites destined for geostationary orbit and many others.

Credit: Google Maps


Source: CIA World Factbook.

The ninth largest country in the world by area with a population of 19.2 million, Kazakhstan is rich in deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal and other natural resources. The protests began on Sunday against the government’s decision to raise the price of liquified petroleum gas used for automobiles reportedly due to a rise in demand and production shortages.

Dmitry Rogozin, Director General of Russia’s space state corporation Roscosmos, tweeted that all is well at Baikonur.  “The day passed calmly at Baikonur. Branches of Roscosmos enterprises, law enforcement agencies, city services and organizations are operating normally. The ZATO operational headquarters fully controls the situation in the city. Armed security for key facilities of the cosmodrome has been strengthened.” (per Google Translate.)

Russian space program expert Anatoly Zak of told that ZATO refers to “Zakrytoe Administrativno-Territorialnoe Obrazovanie,” a Russian “Closed Administrative Territorial Entity” or town where a special pass is needed to enter. He agrees Baikonur probably will be all right.

“It looks like the situation in Kazakhstan is fluid and unpredictable like in any unstable country and all depends on who will take power. For now, it seems that a pro-Russian man is in power and he essentially invited Russian troops to come in and take the situation under control. Baikonur is relatively remote from the centers of power, so, unless, local security forces switch sides, it should be OK.”

Baikonur is not the only part of Kazakhstan important to the Russian space program. The steppes to the northeast of Baikonur towards Karaganda are the landing site for Soyuz spacecraft returning from the International Space Station.

The next Soyuz launch to the ISS, Soyuz MS-21, is scheduled for March 18, with the landing of Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA’s Mark Vande Hei at the end of that month.

Since Kazakhstan gained independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has paid to lease the cosmodome and for environmental cleanup of areas affected by rocket stages that fall back to Earth. The two countries agreed to renew the lease through 2050 last year, but with additional requirements to limit environmental damage. Kazakh Digital Development and Aerospace Industry Minister Bagdat Musin reportedly said Russia pays $115 million per year and Kazakhstan has “made more than $3 billion” over 27 years.

Russia decided to build a new launch site, Vostochny, in Siberia to reduce its reliance on Baikonur. After years and years of delays, Vostochny is now in limited use, but Baikonur is still the mainstay. Russia also launches from Plesetsk in the Arctic Cicle for polar-orbiting satellites.

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