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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 June 2006, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
First Kazakh satellite into orbit
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC News

KazSat-1 was launched on board a Russian rocket

Kazakhstan has launched its first communications satellite, entering the ranks of the space-exploring nations.

The unmanned KazSat-1 satellite was launched from the Baikonur space centre in the west of the country.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev watched the launch from nearby with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Russia currently leases the Soviet-era cosmodrome, but oil-rich Kazakhstan has ambitions to boost its own role in the lucrative space and satellite industry.

The rocket's fiery tail lifted into the sky over the empty steppe just before dawn.

The satellite was launched into space by a Russian Proton rocket, and it will now remain in orbit at a fixed point above the Earth's surface to relay television and other communications signals for Kazakhstan, parts of Russia and three other Central Asian nations.

Space ambitions

Baikonur is the world's largest space centre.

The Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world's first artificial satellite, from the centre in 1957, and today astronauts and supplies for the International Space Station blast off from there.

Moscow has leased the facility until 2050, but is phasing out its military use.

The centre will continue to be used for the growing business of space flights and communications satellites.

Kazakhstan, flush with money from its rapidly developing Caspian oil industry, wants a share of this lucrative space business and is working closely with Russia on its Baikonur projects.

The know-how now is Russian, but Kazakhstan is already training its own cosmonauts, and plans to build its own satellites in future, as well as providing satellite launch services for other countries.

The two governments are also building a new launch facility at Baikonur for the new Angara rocket.

The Angara is an environmentally friendly alternative to the Proton, which uses poisonous fuel which sometimes spills onto the steppe after blastoff.


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