Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, said the four directors of three contractors arrested during the construction of the $13.5bn Vostochny Cosmodrome faced prison sentences if they were found guilty of fraud.
The president was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying: "Six criminal cases had to be launched, in which four people were arrested. Two of them, however, are under house arrest, while the other two are in pre-trial detention. But if their guilt is proven, they’ll have to swap their warm beds at home for prison bunks."
Putin was speaking yesterday (27 April) after the first launch scheduled from the space station was, embarrassingly, called off less than two minutes before it was to go ahead.
He later said: "The malfunction, as far as I understand, is not due to the condition of the cosmodrome, but to the rocket itself. I want to hear how the post-launch analysis is being carried out. Without any doubt, conclusions will have to be made."
Such things happen quite often. Our colleagues abroad also experience the same problems. In general, technology is a very serious thing. Even clothes irons break from time to time– Roskosmos spokesperson
The launch of a Soyuz 2.1a space rocket was carried out successfully today, which prompted a more positive reaction from the president. He commented to scientists: "This is just the first stage of enormous work, and everything you were supposed to do you did brilliantly."
The first phase of the cosmodrome is equipped to launch rockets with small payloads, such as satellites; later phases, which will be completed by 2018, will be able to handle manned shuttles.
The Russian space industry may be a world leader, but the same cannot be said for construction, judging by the troubled project history of the Vostochny project.
Work on the first civilian cosmodrome began in the Amur Oblast in Russia’s far east in 2012, with the first launch scheduled for 2015. This was postponed to April as a result of what Russia Today calls "mismanagement of the project and poor performance by subcontractors".
The project also attracted headlines when workers went on strike after their salaries were delayed.
Criminal investigations into alleged embezzlement and other corruption-related crimes were launched, and in 2014 an inquiry by the Roskosmos, the Russian space agency, found financial irregularities worth $1.4bn, including a 20% overstatement of costs.
The facility is intended to take over from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, for which Russia pays a yearly rent of $115m.
Speaking about the cancelled launch, a Roskosmos spokesperson said that it should not be dramatised. He said: "Such things happen quite often. Our colleagues abroad also experience the same problems. In general, technology is a very serious thing. Even clothes irons break from time to time."
Image: Today’s successful maiden launch from the Vostochny Cosmodrome (Kremlin)