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Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on Wednesday that if space launches remain Russia's only services in the sector, the country risks becoming a "space cabman."

Speaking at a board session of the state space agency Roscosmos, Ivanov said: "Roscosmos today earns most of its money by putting foreign satellites into orbit. And our state organizations and businesses buy data provided by those satellites at considerably higher prices. This situation has to be amended."

Ivanov, who oversees the military-industrial sector, urged for the development and production of new space technology enabling the country to provide other services in the sphere.

"If we fail to do this, we will gradually turn into a kind of 'space cabman' working for foreign overlords," he said.

However, the minister said space launches are an important source of revenue and urged greater responsibility in meeting contracts. He demanded measures to deter "unpleasant incidents" such as delays in the launch of a South African satellite, or problems related to the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan.

The launch of South Africa's first government microsatellite, SumbandilaSat - to monitor and manage disasters including flooding, oil spills and fires - from a Russian submarine in the Barents Sea was postponed indefinitely last spring. Initial reports cited a need to sort out bureaucratic technicalities.

In Kazakhstan, where Russia has rented its main launching site since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow has faced frequent demands for compensation for environmental damage caused by launches or rocket crashes. In the fall of 2007, the Central Asian state briefly imposed a ban on Proton launches from Baikonur over a rocket crash on September 6.

Ivanov urged for "independent access" to space for Russia and said Roscosmos should focus on building a new space center, Vostochny, in the Far East, which is set to start this year.

"By 2016, the space center must be able to launch rockets of any type, and in 2018 manned spacecraft should be launched from there," he said.

Apart from the space center in Kazakhstan, Russia currently uses a launch site in Plesetsk, about 800 km north of Moscow, which was originally designed as a launch site for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Ivanov said that in 2006 Russia launched a total of 26 carrier rockets, a figure that rose to 45 in 2007, and that the number of launches will rise further this year.

Speaking at a Cabinet session on Tuesday, Ivanov said Russia will increase funding for space projects by 13% in 2008, which does not include military programs.

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