Space: Israel Could Be A Contender


April 7, 2009: Kazakhstan has a satellite launching facility at Baikonur, and they are negotiating with Israel to launch Israeli communications satellites from there. Long term, Kazakhstan wants to induce Israel to help turn Baikonur into an international launch facility.

Founded in 1955, by the Soviet Union, Baikonur was one of the main satellite launch facilities for the Russians. But since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Baikonur found itself in the newly minted Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan. There, it has became more expensive and difficult for the Russians to use. Russia has leased the Baikonur complex from Kazakhstan since 1991, but this led to disputes over lease terms, and the danger to locals from launch accidents.

The Russians need the Baikonur launch site, as it is very efficient for some types of launchers (geostationary, lunar, planetary, and ocean surveillance missions, as well as all manned missions). But having your main launch site in a foreign country was seen as untenable. So the Russians are building a replacement site to the east, in Russian territory. The new launch center in Amur, Vostochny, will be operational by 2015, and all manned space programs will be moved to there by 2020. At that point, the Russians will abandon Baikonur. Vostochny used to be Svobodny 18, an ICBM base that was shut down in 1993 as part of the START disarmament treaty. Amur was ultimately selected because of weather (it averaged only 50-60 overcast days a year, had a dry climate and calm winds) and the absence of earthquakes. The first launches are not expected until 2016. Military launches will largely remain at Plesetsk, in northern Russia.

So Kazakhstan needs new partners to keep Baikonur in business, and they believe the Israelis have the technology and business savvy to help make this happen. For Israel, doing that kind of business in Central Asia is a high risk, high cost business they may want to avoid.


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