Oil-rich Kazakhstan is taking a new look at its Soviet-era space facility at Baikonur, reconsidering Russian use of the facility as well as evaluating ways to develop it as an increased source of profits for the government.
Environmental concerns have become increasingly important to the Kazakh government, with Kazakhstan’s national space agency chief Talgat Musabayev stating that Kazakhstan wants to amend its space agreement with Russia to end Proton-class launches from Baikonur, while nonetheless agreeing that Russia should be allowed to proceed with its Proton-M launch scheduled for July 7 (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 13).
It is a measure of Kazakhstan’s increasing international presence that the scheduled July 7 launch is designed to place a U.S. telecommunications satellite, DirecTV-10 into orbit. The satellite was designed and manufactured by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems and is designed to broadcast high definition television (HDTV) across the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii. The launch has been coordinated by the U.S.-Russian joint venture International Launch Services, mutually owned by Space Transport Inc., Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, and Moscow’s RSC Energia, which holds exclusive global rights for sales and satellite launches on Russian-built Proton rockets fired from Baikonur, which is operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency — Roskosmos. (RIA-Novosti, June 13).
Over the last decade International Launch Services has launched 46 commercial Proton rockets at Baikonur. Musabayev’s comments indicate that Kazakhstan is serious about renegotiating the terms of the commercial lease of Baikonur to Moscow, an issue that will require careful consideration from Russia, as International Launch Services has an additional 15 scheduled launches through 2010. In 1994 the Russian and Kazakh governments signed a 20-year lease agreement.
In a further sign of Kazakhstan’s growing independence from Moscow’s dictates, Astana has decided to terminate its Ishim joint space project with Russia, as the Kazakh government has concluded that creating the new aerospace rocket complex would not be economically feasible. As envisaged, Ishim was to be a complex for launching small payloads into space fired from MiG-31 fighters launching small rocket into low earth orbits under a 2005 agreement between the Kazakh government and Moscow’s Thermotechniques Institute. Kazkosmos, Kazakhstan’s National Space Agency, decided to cancel the project because of the relative lack of commercial interest, despite the fact that the concept was “beautiful in engineering terms” (Interfax-AVN June 12).
The Ishim project would have utilized modified MIG-31 fighter jets capable of reaching altitudes of 15.5 miles, where they would then have launched solid-fuel carrier rockets with payloads weighing up to 450 pounds. Musabayev told government officials, “We have already taken a decision with regard to the Ishim program. Our unequivocal position is that, unfortunately, we must close this project due to the poor marketing study of it and its inability to enter markets. This position totally conforms to the stances of the National Security Committee and other agencies that have carefully studied this issue.” First Deputy Defense Minister and the chief of staff of the Kazakh armed forces Mukhtar Altynbayev supported the decision to terminate the project, saying, “There are many questions there. First, spending on the study may be unjustified because in fact, the construction of existing aircraft requires large amounts of spending. New aircraft should actually be made. These preliminary costs may lead to the project being abandoned.”
While Kazakhstan is moving forward with national space projects, it is far from abandoning broader cooperation, not only with Russia but also with other Commonwealth of Independent States members. In delineating his agency’s ambitions projected up to 2020, Musabayev told government officials, “It is planned to set up a space reconnaissance and flight-control system, which will provide for the positioning of troops and high-precision weapons system. There are also plans to take part in a collective [within the CIS] missile attack warning system, which is integrated into the space monitoring system of state borders and others” (Interfax-Kazakhstan, June 12).
Musabayev’s ambitions extend far beyond military and business concerns. Taking a page from the recent private commercialization of space travel, the head of Kazkosmos said, “Development of space tourism at the Baikonur cosmodrome is possible. The issue will be explored with the Russian side. Although there exist some difficulties connected with the access of foreign nationals to the Baikonur complex this issue nevertheless is being studied by the National Security Committee” (Kazinform, June 12).