Russian and Kazakhstan argue over Astra launch

At 3.38am local time on September 30th, a giant Russian Proton rocket successfully launched Astra 2E for SES of Luxembourg. The launch should have taken place many weeks ago, but all activity on the Russian cosmodrome was halted following a July 2nd disaster when a similar Proton rocket went awry.

But behind the scenes there is growing annoyance by the Kazakhstan government, where the launch site is situated. The site itself is leased from Kazakhstan by the Russian government and besides the rocket launch facilities, the site contains some of Russia’s nuclear ballistic missiles. Officially, the Kazaks have to give permission for each rocket launch, and there were suggestions that they would not approve the launch.

In particular the Kazaks are grumbling about local pollution caused by the frequency of launches, and the severe contamination of the area around the site by catastrophic failures of some launches. There are also some complaints that the Russians are not paying enough in terms of fees for use of the site.

The deputy chairman of KazKosmos (Kazakhstan Space Agency) Yerkin Shaimagambetov, says: “The [site] detoxification has been made by our experts and our Russian partners together. After the fourth detoxification I can say that the works have been successful,” Shaimagambetov said. “Our ecologists recommend to start a yhree-year monitoring of the crash site and in the nearest villages. But we believe it possible for us to approve the launch of Proton-M rocket on September 30th.”

Kazakhstan says it wants to continue insisting on a range of issues that are important for KazKosmos, Kazakhstan Environmental Protection Minister said. “First, to continue biological reclamation of soil for improvement of the microflora in this area. Second, to continue the three-year monitoring programme. Third, the Ministry of Environmental protection will finish its work and report on the damage caused by the crash of Proton-M rocket [earlier this year],” the Minister said.

Astra 2E was launched by International Launch Services (ILS) which markets the Proton system for commercial use. Astra 2E weighs just over 6 tonnes and carries Ku and Ka-band transponders. It will be placed at 28.2, SES’s major orbital position for the British Isles, and also serving Europe and Africa.

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