Hugh Pickens writes writes: "RIA Novosti reports that Kazakhstan and Russia are in talks over returning the city of Baikonur to Kazakhstan — the site of the first Soviet rocket launches and Russia's most important space launch center. Baikonur, built in Kazakhstan in the 1950s, is the main launch facility for the current generation of Russian rockets and was leased by Russia from Kazakhstan under an agreement signed in 1994 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "Today both nations' governments have decided to set up a new intergovernmental commission for the Baikonur complex to be headed up by first or other deputy prime ministers," said Talgat Musabayev, head of Kazakhstan's space agency. At issue is control over Baikonur and the rent Russia pays Kazakhstan to use the facility, a subject of ongoing dispute between the two nations ever since Kazakhstan gained independence from the USSR. Earlier this year, Kazakhstan blocked Russia from launching several rockets from Baikonur in a dispute over a drop zone for debris and Kazakhstan insisted this must be covered by a supplement to the main rental agreement signed in Astana in 2004, extending Russia's use of the space center's facilities until 2050. Russia pays an annual fee of approximately $115 million to use the space center, which currently has the world's busiest launch schedule, as well as $50 million annually for maintenance. Russia and Kazakhstan are working to build a new space launch facility at Baikonur, called Baiterek, to launch Angara carrier rockets capable of delivering 26 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbits but Russia intends to eventually withdraw from Baikonur and conduct launches from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome, an operating spaceport about 500 miles north of Moscow — and the unfinished Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East."
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