KazSat1 in Orbit.
A Russian carrier rocket has delivered Kazakhstan's first communications satellite into orbit, a spokesman for Russia's federal space agency said Sunday.
The Central Asian nation of 15 million is home to the world's largest space center, the Baikonur cosmodrome. It has been leasing the Soviet-built facility to Russia, but now Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev wants his nation to build its own space industry.
The Kazakh government's ambition is fueled by its post-Soviet economic success, pumped up by oil-dollars.
Russian President Vladimir Putin joined Nazarbayev at Baikonur to watch the early morning launch of KazSat 1, a geostationary satellite designed to provide TV broadcast and communications for Kazakhstan, three other Central Asia nations, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and part of Russia.
The two leaders watched the launch from an observation platform about two miles from the launch pad. After the rocket's fiery tail disappeared into the sky, which was just turning pink ahead of dawn, they left in a car without commenting.
The satellite, built by Russia's Khrunichev design center and reported to be worth $100 million, was launched aboard a Russian Proton-K carrier rocket. The launch was initially scheduled for December 2005 but was postponed due to technical problems.
"Everything went according to plan and it gives us hope that the work of the first Kazakh satellite will be successful as well," said Igor Panarin, a spokesman for the Russian space agency. "It is a victory for both Russia and Kazakhstan." He said the launch signifies that Kazakhstan "has become a space nation."
Russian news agencies said the satellite reached its geostationary orbit at about 9:30 a.m., though neither Russian nor Kazakh space officials could immediately be reached to confirm that.
Kazakhstan is planning space exploration missions and has reached an agreement with Russia to be part of all of Russia's projects involving Baikonur, said Serik Turzhanov, who heads the national space agency, Kazkosmos.
Set in the isolated western steppes of Kazakhstan, Baikonur was the scene of the historic launches of the first satellite to orbit the Earth and the initial flight of pioneer cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin. Today, it's Russia's main launch site for manned space flights.
Only Russia, the United States and China have launched a human into orbit on their own.
Nazarbayev has instructed his government to make developing the space industry a strategic goal. Kazakhstan, flush with oil profits, has begun forming its own squad of cosmonauts, who have been training for several years in Russia.
KazSat 1 will be followed by KazSat 2 and KazSat 3 and several scientific satellites that could predict earthquakes and are equipped with remote sensing devices. The nation's plans include eventually providing satellite launch services to other nations, Turzhanov said.
The Kazakh space agency also plans to built a control center in the capital, Astana, that would monitor all launches from Baikonur and another center to monitor satellites flying over Kazakh territory. The Kazakhs are also forming their own squad of cosmonauts, who have been training for a few years at the Russian cosmonaut training center.
Kazakhstan and Russia have also agreed to jointly develop a new launch complex for the more environmentally friendly Angara vehicle, an alternative to the Soyuz booster now in use, which uses poisonous fuel.
This weekend's launch was the first for the Proton rocket family since a failure in February stranded an Arab communications satellite in a useless orbit. Investigators found fault with the Breeze M upper stage's oxidizer supply system, which could have been blocked by a foreign object near a nozzle of the booster hydraulic pump. The blockage caused the main engine to shut down prematurely during the stage's second burn.
The next flight of the Proton launcher is planned for late July, at the earliest, with the European Hot Bird 8 direct-to-home broadcasting satellite. The mission will be the first to include a Breeze M upper stage since February's failure.
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