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Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK


Vital Mir mission gets go-ahead

The supply flight to Mir must leave by 20 July

The Kazakhstan government will allow a vital flight to the Mir space station to take off from its Baikonur launch pad on 16 July, said government spokesman Sergei Sivun.

The agreement with Russia ends the ban on launches imposed by Kazakhstan after a Proton booster rocket carrying a Russian military satellite exploded shortly after lift-off last week.

[ image: Proton debris rained on Kazakhstan]
Proton debris rained on Kazakhstan
Russia owes $150m for leasing the launch pad from the former Soviet republic. A Russian delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, agreed to pay $50m in cash by November and $65m in goods by next year.

The rocket explosion led to widespread dispersal of toxic rocket fuel and a part of the rocket fell into a woman's backyard, several hundred kilometres away.

The Kazakh authorities then made a number of demands:

  • Payment of the rent owed
  • An detailed enquiry into the rocket explosion
  • Compensation for environmental and infrastructure damage

However, the Russian media have said the ban was imposed solely to force Russia to pay its debt.

Ground control

The flight to Mir is needed to deliver food and water to the three cosmonauts on board. It will also bring equipment essential for maintaining control of the space station when the cosmonauts leave and the station is mothballed in August.

BBC Central Asia Correspondent Louise Hidalgo: "The Kazakhs have remained unmoved"
The plan is that Mir will eventually fall to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere. But the Russian Space Agency had warned that without the new equipment Mir could shower the Earth with debris.

"We must not allow the Mir space station to fly out of control," said the head of the Russian Space Agency, Yuri Koptev.

[ image:  ]
"The chances of being hit over the head by bits of the space station are equal for all, whether you are Russian or Kazakh, or indeed from any other country falling within a 51 degree radius either side of Mir."

The supply flight was due to lift-off on Wednesday. The Russians said 20 July was the last date possible for the launch - after that Mir moves to a new orbit, making it very difficult to reach the space station.

The latest launch failure is of concern to the nations involved in the International Space Station because the next phase of the project is due to be launched on board a Proton vehicle in November.

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