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Russia to build new launch facility

Russia will launch its manned space missions from a new centre in the Far East in 2018, prime minister Vladimir Putin said, as the country seeks greater independence for its space programme.

Mr Putin made the comments as he inaugurated the start of construction for the new cosmodrome at the former missile defence base of Vostochny, outside the town of Uglegorsk, 3,600 miles east of Moscow, and a few hundred miles away from China.

Russia currently uses the Soviet-built Baikonur launch facility in Kazakhstan for all of its manned space missions and other commercial launches as well as a smaller centre in northern Russia for military satellite launches.

Russia has a lease on Baikonur until 2050 and has paid around 115 million US dollars to Kazakhstan in rent since the agreement in 2004.

Mr Putin stressed the "strategic" need for Moscow to have "an independent access to space".

Although Baikonur is located in a "friendly state", it is still owned by another country, he said.

Russia's prime minister said on state-run Rossiya channel that Vostochny will host all launches of Russian-manned spacecraft beginning in 2018. Launches of first unmanned spacecraft from the new centre are expected in 2015.

Mr Putin described the construction as "one of the biggest and ambitious projects of modern Russia" which "gives opportunity to thousands of young professionals to use their talent".

Like Baikonur in Kazakhstan, Russia's Amur Region in the Far East, where the new centre is being built, is sparsely populated.

New technologies will allow the new launch pad to be 10 times smaller compared to what Baikonur occupies in the Kazakh steppe, said Russia's space agency chief Anatoly Perminov.

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