Things can move really quickly through the Russian military bureaucracy when money is involved. It took the Rocket Forces just a few months to get from an idea of a commercial launch site at Dombarovsky to what looks like a full approval.

No one quite mentioned the money when the project was rammed through Tyumen region administration in October last year (Tyumen has ended up as a place where missile first stages with residual UDMH fuel will be landing). The Rocket Forces argued that the site is necessary to extend the lifetime of the R-36M2 (SS-18) missiles. But involvement of Kosmotras, a company that markets Dnepr/SS-18 launches, left little doubts about the real direction of the project.

Before the first test launch from the site on December 22, 2004, the party line still was that five to seven launches that the Rocket Forces was planning to conduct from Dombarovsky annually will be for training purposes.

Well, no longer so. Ivan Safronov of the Kommersant reported today that the General Staff has formed a commission that worked in the Orenburg region all last week, studying the space launch site proposal. There is little doubt that the project will get a green light, although the military are reluctant to say it yet.

If everything goes well, the Rocket Forces will get some extra income - Safronov estimates that each Dnepr/SS-18 launch will bring about $2-6 million. It is likely that the money will go directly to the Rocket Forces (maybe via Kosmotras); otherwise the project would have not been moving as quickly as it it has. If the hoped for seven launches will materialize this could bring as much as about $40 million a year. Not all that much compared to the acquisition budget, but not bad.

The military say that it may take about two years before the site will be ready for is first space launch, but I wouldn't be surprised if it happens much sooner, especially if the Rocket Forces finds customers for its launch services.

What's interesting is that Dombarovsky will remain an operational ICBM site, which will be sharing most of its facilities with the proposed new space launch facility. Swords next to ploughshares?