Kazakhstan accuses Russia over space crash

Kazakhstan, home to Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome, accused Moscow on Friday of not doing enough to ensure the safety of its space launches a day after a Russian rocket crashed in the Central Asian state.

Kazakhstan accuses Russia over space crash
Kazakhstan, home to Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome, accused Moscow on Friday of not doing enough to ensure the safety of its space launches a day after a Russian rocket crashed in the Central Asian state.

No one was hurt when the unmanned Proton booster, filled with highly toxic heptyl fuel, rammed into open countryside near the industrial city of Zhezkazgan in central Kazakhstan.

But the accident raised concerns about ecological damage and prompted Kazakhstan to halt all Proton launches pending an investigation.

The coincidental proximity of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who was in the region on a visit at the time of the crash, also fuelled the government's anger.

"We have to prepare for very serious talks with Russia because this is absolutely outrageous," Prime Minister Karim Masimov told a government meeting in the capital Astana.

Space safety is a big issue for Russia as Moscow seeks to revive its Soviet-era status as a global space power. Proton launches are at the heart of its commercial space industry.

Reuters Television footage from the scene showed a 20-metre (yard) deep crater at the impact site and twisted fragments of the rocket's body scattered around a barren, rocky steppe.

The rocket, carrying a Japanese satellite, exploded in mid-air shortly after blast off early on Thursday.

Masimov said Kazakh security services should be given more influence to change launch schedules to avoid security risks for the Central Asia state's long-serving president.

"If the president's visit is taking place and a rocket is being launched, we must have the right to stop everything," he said.

Russia is renting Baikonur, the world's biggest space launch facility set up by the Soviet Union in the mid-1950s, under a long-term contract with Kazakhstan, which became an independent state after the Soviet Union broke apart in 1991.

Deputy Ecology Minister Zeinolla Sarsenbayev said Kazakhstan was introducing new, tougher rules for Russian space launches.

"Over the last 10-11 years there have been six accidents during Baikonur launches," he said in remarks published on the official government Web site.

"It just happens too often. Our ministry ... will toughen rules for the Russian side," he said without elaborating.

Sarsenbayev said Kazakhstan had set up a working group to assess the contamination level in the area.

In a similar accident last year, a Ukrainian-designed Russian Dnepr rocket crashed after blastoff causing what Kazakh officials described as widespread ecological damage in the steppe.

Reuters
Last Mod: 07 Eylül 2007, 18:52
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