Russia on Friday extended its lease to use a space-launch site in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan through 2050, after agreeing to let this Central Asian nation play a role in future space projects.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed to extend Russia’s use of the Baikonur cosmodrome, Russia’s sole launch facility for manned space missions. Financial details were not released. Under the previous lease signed in 1994, Russia paid $115 million annually.
Russian launches from Baikonur are the only links to the international space station since the U.S. shuttle fleet was grounded after the Columbia disintegrated during its return to Earth in February, killing all seven astronauts on board.
The space station’s current inhabitants — American Michael Foale and Russia’s Alexander Kaleri — blasted off from the cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppe in October.
Earlier media reports said Kazakhstan wanted more rent money or a share of profits from commercial launches at Baikonur. The Central Asian country has frequently complained that the $115 million fee is inadequate and does not compensate for ecological damage caused by launches.
But the main concession won by Nazarbayev appeared to be an increase in Kazakh participation in the facility — including the training of Kazakh cosmonauts.
Further negotiations regarding the Soviet-era facility, which Kazakhstan inherited after the 1991 collapse of the former Soviet Union, were expected to continue.
The new agreement also envisions Kazakhstan’s involvement in space exploration projects.
“We think that Kazakhstan has not only Baikonur to offer, it has a good intellectual potential,” Putin said.
The two countries also agreed that Russia would help launch a communications satellite for Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan will pay the costs of that launch.
Kazakhstan, the wealthiest of Central Asia’s former Soviet republics, is eager to cooperate with Russia, which owns the main available oil pipeline routes linking the landlocked region with world markets.
Putin, who arrived in Kazakhstan on Friday, made the Central Asian nation his first foreign destination this year as Moscow steps up efforts to regain influence in the strategic, energy-rich region.