Russia to build Space Base in Cuba

Soviet Rocket CartoonRussia has begun discussions about building a space center in Cuba.

By building a base in Cuba, Russia would not only consolidate some of its recent political gains in the Americas, but would gain access to a far better placed launch site than its current Baikonur Cosmodrome.

In return, Cuba would gain access to some Russian technology – in particular, there has been talk of giving Cuba access to the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system.  The development would also provide plenty of jobs and a boost to the struggling Cuban economy.

A Russian foothold in the Americas?

Russia’s announcement is sure to raise alarm bells in Washington – combine the recent decision to hold joint military exercises with Venezuela with rumours that Russian nuclear bombers could soon be based in Cuba and it really does appear that Russia is launching a concerted attempt to develop a foothold in the Americas.

Recent Russian moves in Latin America have partly been inspired by the American reaction to the war in Georgia – sending a warship to deliver aid to Georgia certainly wasn’t appreciated by the Kremlin.

But really we should view this in the wider context of increasing tensions between East and West, and renewed confidence in Russia.  For the past couple of decades, Russia has had to gradually withdraw from every geopolitical gain it made during the Tsarist and Soviet eras.

But today Russia is a state that is clearly growing in strength, whereas it seems that American power is on the wane.  It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that Russia wants to probe American resistance.  And what better way to test America’s strength than to start building relationships with rogue states in America’s own backyard?

A space center in Cuba has practical benefits too

The development of a space base in Cuba isn’t just about geopolitics – there are sound technical reasons for building a launch center in the Caribbean too.

At the moment, the Russian space program is almost entirely reliant on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Southern Kazakhstan.  Sited in what was, at the time, one of the most Southerly, most remote parts of the Soviet Union, Baikonur was the best site the Soviet space program had access to during the Cold War.

But in today’s more cost conscious world, Baikonur isn’t a particularly good site for launching rockets.

Baikonur is too far North, for one thing.  From the perspective of efficiency, the ideal place to launch a satellite is on the equator, where the rotational speed of the earth is greatest.  The further a launch site is from the equator, the more fuel is needed to get into orbit.

Baikonur also suffers from being landlocked, which means that spacecraft must fly over populated areas during takeoff.  Space travel is getting safer all the time, and Baikonur isn’t in a densely populated area, but the risk of a crash in an inhabited area is far greater at Baikonur than at a launch site near the ocean, where the worst that can happen is that a falling spacecraft would make a big spash.

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4 Responses

  1. Kolchak says:

    Time to kick in the Monroe Doctrine.

  2. Tim Newman says:

    Just what Cuba needs, a space centre.

  3. Aleks says:

    This is most likely a wind up.

    Por que?

    The Russians have partnered the Europeans for a joint launching site in French Kourou (somewhat close to the equator than Cuba):

    Though, Putin has ordered more GLONASS (russian gps) in reponse to perceived failings in the Georgia Campaign: and offered ‘cooperation’ (whatever that means) to Cuba and Venezuela:

    If that’s not a wind up, then I’m the Pope and you can kiss my ring!

    OTOH, offering GLONASS to the Cubans might be a means of negotiating a way back into Cuba since Russia gave up its massive SIGNIT base at Lourdes in the 1990s because it couldn’t afford the rent.

    Meanwhile, the frogs are buying 10 Soyouz launchers from Russia:

    Not to mention that Russia has long since announced a southern space port to be built at Vostochny:

    Meanwhile, there seems to be much less coverage of the significance of the proposed chinese plan to launch its own space station using Shenzou 7, 8, 9 & 10:

    Sure, both the indians and chinese will be launching moon (unmanned) missions, but I’m fairly sure that the US mil. will be far concerned about Chinese progress in space…

    Looking at the evidence above, I doesn’t really make sense for Russia to invest in yet another space port (Cuba – though curiously no actual location suggeste) in addition to its investments in FrKourou and Vostochny, BUT, rebuilding military ties with Cuba as another pressure point on the US in direct response to its MD shield in Cz & Pl makes very good sense (if it is cost effective). I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russians at some point in future didn’t comment that they have ‘plans’ to install a missile defense in Cuba either!

    As for all the bluster between Russia and the West over Georgia, mucho wind. If cooperation in the high-tech field is affected, i.e. Russia is kicked out of/suspended from FrKourou or the US bans satellites with significant US content from being launched by Russian systems, then the sh*t has really got serious. So basically relations between them so far can be succinctly explained thus, “All mouth, no trousers”.

  4. Aleks says:

    Mystery solved:

    Russia, Cuba To Implement Joint Space Programs

    “…The proposed Cuban space center will process data received from Russian remote-sensing and navigation satellites. We also plan to jointly use orbital telecommunications networks, Perminov said….”

    So, not a launch pad but more space operations support services.

    It also turns out that Shenzou 7 has nothing to do with the proposed space station:

    …Meanwhile, the US still needs Soyuz to reach the ISS, sanctions or no:

    “During Senate hearings on Wednesday, September 17, William Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said the U.S. is depending on Russia for its ISS flights and that the Bush administration was in support of a Congressional amendment to exempt Russia’s Soyuz vehicles from existing sanctions.

    On Tuesday, September 23, the U.S. Congress will consider an amendment, supported by President George W. Bush, allowing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to buy Russian Soyuz spacecraft and launch services.”