After maiden mission performed on April 28, 2016, from Vostochny cosmodrome, it seemed that it is matter of time when Baikonur Cosmodrome will pass to the history of Russian space exploration. Now probably this moment will be postponed to the future.
Russian conception of extending possibilities of owned by Kazakhstan Baikonur Cosmodrome dates back in the early 2000s. On December 22, 2004, Russia and Kazakhstan signed agreement and established joint venture company “Russia-Kazakhstan Baiterek JV” with shares divided in 50:50. Company objective was, among others, continuing utilization of Baikonur after completing rental agreement in 2050 (or after commissioning Vostochny cosmodrome which started to be planned shortly after establishing Baiterek JV). Second objective for new Joint Venture Company was creating and developing plans of new space launch complex in Kazakhstan, which could serve for launching new generation Angara rockets. New launch site was planned to be placed near Baikonur to avoid additional costs caused by necessity of building new infrastructure like roads or railways. Unfortunately in 2010 due the financial problems program was halted.
According to “Izviestia” from June 27, 2016, Russia is still interested in joint venture with Kazakhstan. Recently representatives of both countries signed agreement which sets new framework for further cooperation under Baiterek JV. Russian side undertakes to design and manufacture new rocket which will replace Zenith-2 launch vehicles manufactured in Ukraine by Yuzhnoe Design Office. Zenith-2, and Zenith-3 (launched from Sea Launch sea platform) were created as joint project of Russia and Ukraine; after Crimea conflict, Roscosmos was forced to cancel all launches of Zenith launch vehicles. Zenith rocket was planned to be replaced with new Fenix rocket or with medium versions of Angara. Unfortunately Fenix is at the moment of very early phase of development and Angara-A3, which could replace Zenith, is also at the moment only a blueprint. Russians would like to avoid paying annual fee for renting Baikonur and not using it full capabilities. “Izviestia” claims that Roscosmos proposition is modification of Proton-M rocket which would cover removing second stage of Proton-M and slight modifications. This will result in reducing payload delivered by rocket to GTO from almost 7 tons to 5 tons but also reducing costs for about 25%. In such configuration Proton would be comparable to Falcon-9 manufactured by SpaceX with single launch cost of around 61$ million. At the moment modified Proton-M could be launched from its launch sites in Baikonur and could help in extending Roscosmos range of launch vehicles in short time. “Izviestia” quotes first deputy director at Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center (manufacturer of the Proton-M rocket) Alexander Medvedev, who claims that in face of new tendency in designing GEO satellites as smaller, lighter and equipped in electrical propulsion it is possible that downsized Proton-M will fill the gap and will hit the market niche. For Kazakhstan partners it is attractive offer. Their participation in this project could open doors for establishing own space industry. Russia of course signed Missile Technology Control Regime act, but still in case of close cooperation between Russia and Kazakhstan in Commonwealth of Independent States it is possible that in spite of MTCR Russia will help Kazakhstan in legal ways in development of own space industry strongly connected with Roscosmos.