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Wednesday, July 7, 1999 Published at 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK


Proton worry for space station

The ISS service module is due to go up in November

The next phase of the multi-billion-dollar International Space Station (ISS) hangs on the outcome of an investigation into Monday's Proton-K rocket failure at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The rocket, carrying a Russian communications satellite, blew up soon after launch scattering debris over a wide area.

The Kazakh government, which leases the cosmodrome to Russia, placed an immediate ban on further launches until the cause of the Proton failure was identified.

In a statement on local TV, picked up by BBC Monitoring, the Kazakh government was said to be angry with Russia because of the accident. The Khabar TV presenter said the ban on further launches would stay in place "until all issues related to the catastrophe are investigated and the material damages inflicted on Kazakhstan are established."

ISS service module

Part of the Proton launcher, weighing some 200 kilograms (440 lbs), fell into the backyard of a villager on the steppe of the northern Kazakh region of Karkaralinsk.

[ image: The Proton has a good record]
The Proton has a good record
There were no victims, although a woman and her son were at home when the rocket part fell from the sky, the TV said.

Relations between Moscow and the Kazakh government have deteriorated over Russia's operation of the Baikonur Cosmodrome. There is reported to be a dispute over rent.

This Proton failure is of concern to the nations involved in the ISS because the next phase of the project is due to be launched on board a Proton vehicle in November. The Russian-built service module, the space station's early living quarters, has already experienced repeated delays, largely because of the former Soviet country's budget difficulties.

'Reliable' vehicle

But until the service module is in orbit, Nasa cannot proceed with construction work on the ISS.

"It is much too early to determine what, if any, impact this failure could have on the launch of the service module," Nasa spokesman Dwayne Brown said. Nasa had not yet been briefed on the accident by its counterparts in Russia, he said.

"The Proton rocket has proven to be an extremely reliable launch vehicle and Nasa has high confidence that the cause of the mishap will be identified and corrected."

His words echoed those of the Proton's manufacturers. Igor Dodin, director of the Khrunishev Space Centre factory, said: "The Proton is the most reliable machine in the world and this accident in no way spoils this statistic."

Mr Dodin said he hoped the ban on flights would be lifted within a month. The next scheduled Proton launch is in late August.

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