Russian President Vladimir Putin has just revealed a new, huge budget of 1.6 trillion rubles over the next seven years to keep Russia ahead of the pack (specifically, ahead of the U.S.) when it comes to space research and space flight.
The roughly $51.8 billion fund — far greater than funds available to any other country’s space program — will be used to continue development of the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a space port and launchpad on which construction first began in 2011.
Putin said in a public address today that he expects the cosmodrome to be fully functional by 2020, with launches of spacecraft by 2015 and launches of spacecraft with cosmonauts onboard by 2018. Unmanned launches will be a new priority for the country, Putin said, including deep-space exploration.
Not-so-coincidentally, these are areas where the U.S. excels. Our long-running Voyager mission is entering or has entered interstellar space after 35 years of continuous space flight, and the Mars Curiosity rover is one of the most interesting and inspiring unmanned missions in Earth’s history (if we do say so ourselves).
Russia’s current main launchpad is located in Kazakhstan, but the site’s $115 million-per-year lease terms have been a recent source of contention between Putin’s administration and Kazakh authorities.
The new cosmodrome is located in Russia’s far east; in fact, “Vostochny” means “eastern.” The site is expected to contain seven launch pads, hotels, barracks, and a surrounding town capable of sustaining 40,000 people. The town, Putin said today, will be named after Russian and Soviet rocket scientist and astronautic theorist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Image credit: Matchbox cover from P. Pesavento collection