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Russia to spend $1 billion on new cosmodrome

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MOSCOW (AP): Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said his nation will spend about $1 billion this year alone to build a new space launch pad in the far east that should ease the Russian space programme's reliance on ex-Soviet neighbour Kazakhstan.

Putin told government officials in televised remarks on Thursday that the first rocket launch from the Vostochny cosmodrome is set to be conducted by 2015, and in 2018 it should launch a first manned mission.

Officials have put the total cost of the project at about $10 billion.

Putin said Russia will continue to use the Soviet-built Baikonur launch pad it leases from Kazakhstan, but added that a new launch facility of its own is needed to secure the national space programme's independence.

Russia has a lease deal to use Baikonur until 2050 for an annual fee of $115 million. In the past, Kazakh authorities briefly suspended Russian rocket launches from Baikonur following the spill of highly toxic rocket fuel.

"Only the existence of several space launch pads would guarantee Russia a full independence in space activities," Putin said.

Russia also has the Plesetsk launch pad in the north used mostly for launches of military satellites.

Vostochny, where construction work began last year, is located outside the town of Uglegorsk in the far eastern Amur region, 5,500 kilometres east of Moscow, and just about 100 kilometres away from the border with China.

Putin said the new facility will include more than 40 apartment buildings for personnel and the necessary infrastructure to make it a "comfortable, modern town."

"We aren't going to repeat the past when they were saving money on people," he said. "It will create a stimulus for the development of the entire far eastern region."

Officials have previously said that the new town will have a population of 40,000.

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