The construction of a new rocket launch site in Russia's Far East will begin next year, the country's top space official said in a scientific council meeting.

Officials hope the Vostochny Cosmodrome will be ready to assume spaceflight duties by 2018, giving Russia a domestic spaceport for human space missions to replace the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Anatoly Perminov, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency, said all decisions have been taken to ensure construction of the cosmodrome starts in 2011.

Perminov made the comments in a meeting of the Scientific and Technical Council, according to the space agency's press service.

The Russian space agency's plans through 2015 call for development of the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Amur region of southeast Russia. The new launch site will be near the Russia-China border.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced in July an $800 million spending package for construction at Vostochny over the next three years, but that figure is a fraction of the projected total cost of the facility.

Vostochny, which means eastern in Russian, would host flights of the planned Rus-M rocket, which engineers are designing to launch a proposed next-generation manned spacecraft to replace the venerable Soyuz capsule.

The preliminary design contract was awarded to TsSKB-Progress, the state-controlled production center that also builds Soyuz rockets. TsSKB-Progress presented the results of their conceptual design work at the Russian space agency council meeting.

Perminov said the Rus-M rocket will become the "core element of the future Russian space infrastructure." The new booster would come in several versions tailored for different types of missions, but officials say the Rus-M will be more capable than the workhorse Soyuz rocket.

If the new space center and rocket are built, Russia could move its human space launches from Baikonur to Russian territory. Russia has maintained Baikonur in a sometimes contentious long-term lease with the Kazakh government since the fall of the Soviet Union.

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