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Marlboro Rockets, Kazakh Launch Pads And The Future Of Post-Soviet Space Business

The Soyuz launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
The Soyuz launchpad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
Ivan Safronov

MOSCOW - In December, the Kazakh space agency announced that it was going to be reevaluating the terms under which Russia leases the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest facility for space launches -- and the only cosmodrome that Russia uses to launch manned space flights.

The announcement sent a wave of panic through the Russian space program, and both Russia's vice-premier Igor Shuvalov and his Kazakh counterpart Kairat Kelimbetov spoke out on the issue.

Though it now looks like the lease agreement, which is supposed to extend to 2050, is not going to be cancelled, it sheds new light on a very strategic agreement. One thing is clear: Russia is not ready to say goodbye.

The rental agreement between the two countries was signed in 2004, but as early as 2009 the Kazakh space agency – KazKosmos – started to demand a reevaluation of the agreement, with the primary goal that Kazakhstan be allowed full and equal use of the complex.

According to Kremlin sources, no one is planning to change the current “rules of the game.”

“Changing the conditions is not part of our plans, nor the plans of our Kazakh colleagues – both Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbaev support that position,” says the source.

The two sides depend on one another. Kazakhstan might be the owner of the Baikonur cosmodrome, which was built in the 1950s, but it does not have the resources to keep it in working order alone. On the other hand, Russia desperately needs the Baikonur cosmodrome, since it only has one other launch facility, which is only for military purpose.

The cosmodrome includes around 10 major structures over more than 6700 square kilometers, all of which require periodic upgrades and repair. According to the current agreement, Russia is required to spend at least $115 million on upkeep per year, as well as to keep the cosmodrome in use. “We are spending our money not just for our own space program. International agreements are also very important,” says a source from RosCosmos. “As soon as we leave, the cosmodrome will die, and we can’t let that happen. We have already spent too much for that.”

Sad condition

Planes from the Astronaut Preparation Center land at the airport of the small town of Baikonur. In the past half year, the airport has changed, adding modern transport and decor, and the whole building is being reconstructed. “No one used to think about this before, and to tell the truth, the airport was in a sad condition,” says one of the customs workers. “Now, when international delegations visits, we aren’t ashamed anymore.” From there, it’s a 40-minute drive to the cosmodrome.

Leonid Goryushkin, vice-director of a factory on the cosmodrome that produces rockets, explains that the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, were difficult times. “It was tough with money before, but now there’s at least a little to go around.” Part of that money comes from commercial launches – one time, a rocket was entirely painted with an ad for Marlboro cigarettes.

That is part of why Kazakhstan’s demand that Russia reduce the number of launches from 17 to 12 in 2013 is so unwelcome. No matter how much more money Russia earmarks for the cosmodrome, it is not realistic to continue operating the facility without commercial launches.

These aren’t the only challenges at Baikonur. For one, the average age of the people who work there is over 50. According to one of the managers, there are several reasons for that. First of all, the work is essentially round-the-clock, there are no set 8-hour workdays. It’s not well paid, although everyone has high educational qualifications.

Russia is working on ways to reduce its reliance on Kazakhstan. Most importantly, it is working on building a new, “Eastern” cosmodrome, which would be first post-Soviet launch facility in Russia.

In a speech in January, the head of RosCosmos explained, “We need to have access to whatever space vessels we want, with any orbit or decent, independent of any other country’s opinion.”

But the new facility doesn’t exist yet, so Russia has to continue working with the Kazakhs. In the most recent talks between the two vice-premiers, the major conditions of the lease agreement were not revisited, but Russia was forced to give major concessions in some ongoing bilateral space projects.

If the past is any indication, the demands coming from Kazakhstan will only increase. According to our sources, the idea for a joint rights commission on Baikonur came from Moscow – since Moscow has to control the pressure from KazCosmos. Withstanding that pressure is necessary until the Eastern Cosmodrome is functional as a independent launch facility. The first unmanned flight is planned for 2015, while the first piloted launches are not planned until 2018. And all of that assumes that the rocket that Russia intends to use for those launches has been fully worked out by then.

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Spencer Tunick Nude Installation in Israel

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Salam!*

Welcome to Monday, where the UK pays homage to slain MP David Amess, Myanmar frees thousands of prisoners, and Facebook gets ready to build its "metaverse." Please fasten your seatbelts: Worldcrunch also takes stock of the long-lasting effects — good and bad — the pandemic has had on the air travel industry.

[*Azeri - Azerbaijan]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

Myanmar to free political prisoners: Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing has announced the release of 5,636 prisoners who had been jailed for protesting the coup that ousted the civilian government in February 2021.

• Powerful Haiti gang behind the kidnapping of U.S. missionaries: The notorious 400 Mawozo gang is believed to be behind the kidnapping in Haiti of a group of Christian missionaries, including 16 U.S. citizens and one Canadian. The brazen kidnapping on Saturday comes as crime is spiking since the killing of President Jovenel Moise in July.

• UK to pay tribute to David Amess: British lawmakers will pay homage in parliament to colleague David Amess, who was stabbed to death Friday in what was described by the police as a "terrorist incident." Officers arrested a 25-year-old suspect whose father, Harbi Ali Kullane, worked as a media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia.

• COVID update: Russia has registered more than 34,000 cases of new infections in the past 24 hours, a new record since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, police in the northeast Italian city of Trieste used water cannons to clear striking dockworkers protesting Italy's new requirements that all employees be vaccinated.

• At least 26 killed in floods in India: Torrential rain has triggered floods and landslides in India's southern coastal state of Kerala, killing at least 26 people.

• Facebook to hire 10,000 in EU to develop "metaverse": The U.S. social media giant plans to hire 10,000 workers in the European Union over the next five years to build a "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet that the company touts as the future.

Punishing parents for children's bad behavior: After limiting gaming hours for minors, China is now considering legislation to reprimand parents if their children exhibit "very bad behavior" or commit crimes.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Colombian daily El Espectador dedicates its front page to Alex Saab, "owner of the secrets" of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Colombian businessman, wanted by U.S. authorities for allegedly laundering money on behalf of Venezuela's government, has been extradited from Cape Verde to the U.S. where he is scheduled to appear in court today.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

4.9%

China's economy registered its slowest pace in a year as the country faces a looming energy crisis with power shortages and increasing pressure on its property sector. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the period between July-September rose 4.9%, the weakest numbers since the third quarter of 2020 and significantly lower than forecasts. The world's second-largest economy faces a debt crisis linked to the China Evergrande Group debt crisis, while energy shortfalls have dropped factory output to its weakest since early 2020, when heavy COVID-19 curbs were in place.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

7 ways the pandemic may change the airline industry for good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

⛽ Cleaner aviation fuel: With air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel. In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials

.🛃 Smoother check-in: The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

✈️ The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less? At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel, in particular, is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"The crimes committed that night are unforgivable for the Republic."

— Emmanuel Macron became the first French president to commemorate the killing of as many as 200 Algerian independence protesters by Parisian police in 1961. For 40 years, French officials ignored the massacre, which took place a year before Algeria gained its independence from France after an eight-year war. In 2012, French President François Hollande acknowledged the killings for the first time on a visit to Algeria, and Macron took it further by attending Sunday's commemoration at the site where the events happened in the French capital. Still, many had hoped the French President would go further and take responsibility for a "state massacre," for a crime many historians consider the most violent repression of a peaceful demonstration in post-War Europe.

📈💥  IN OTHER NEWS

​Low trust, high risk: The global rise of violence targeting politicians

The deadly stabbing of British Parliament Member David Amess confirms an ongoing study on trust and governance in democracies around the world: It's bad. In The Conversation, James Weinberg — the study's author and a lecturer in Political Behavior at the University of Sheffield — writes:

⏪ The assassination of Amess, who was stabbed to death in his constituency on Friday, is a tragic moment for democracy. What makes it even more devastating is that such a catastrophic failure is not without precedent or predictability. Labour MP Jo Cox was shot at her constituency surgery in 2016. Before her, another Labour MP, Stephen Timms, survived a stabbing in 2010. And Andrew Pennington, a Gloucestershire county councilor, died in a frenzied attack in 2001 while trying to protect local Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones.

☝️ Beyond these critical junctures in the public debate about politicians' safety, elected representatives must live with an increasingly insidious level of popular cynicism that threatens violence on an almost daily basis.

🇬🇧🇳🇿🇿🇦 Not only are these experiences of abuse or threats of physical violence felt across both sides of the political aisle in the UK — they also appear to be growing more common in other democratic contexts where the climate of politics has been presumed to be both calmer and more volatile, from New Zealand to South Africa.


Read the full piece from The Conversation, now on Worldcrunch.com

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

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