Kazakhstan Takes More Control Of Baikonur, Keeps Rhetorical Pressure On Russia
Kazakhstan has again publicly criticized Russia's operation of the Baikonur space launch facility, suggesting that Astana continues to keep up the pressure on Moscow to take more control over the facility.
One of the most contentious issues has been Russia's use of the Proton launcher, which uses an especially toxic fuel. A crash of a Russian Proton rocket last year over Kazakhstan caused an estimated $90 million in damages and spurred a growing environmental protest movement in the country. But the alternative, the Zenit launcher, needs more technical work to achieve the same power as Proton.
Last week, the head of Kazakhstan's space agency KazCosmos, Talgat Musabayev , told the country's parliament that Kazakhstan would foot the bill for that modernization itself. From TengriNews:
“We would like to replace it [Proton] with Zenit rocket launcher. Of course, Proton is one of a kind technological achievement; there are practically no rockets of such good quality in the world. But you are right: this rocket uses terribly toxic fuel components. This is why I supported and support its replacement,” Musabayev said during the meeting in the lower chamber of the Parliament....
“Russia does not want to do it, I am telling you openly. That is why, it appears, that our country will bear all the costs. If there is a political will, then we are ready to act on it,” Musabayev added.
He also said that Russia has put up "incredible resistance" to new environmental regulations that Kazakhstan wants to implement at Baikonur. Other officials have recently complained that Russia is dragging its feet in paying compensation to Kazakhstan for last year's crash.
All of this is part of an effort by Kazakhstan to take more control over Russia's activities in the space and military facilities that Russia still leases as a legacy of the Soviet Union. Earlier this year, Kazakhstan officials outlined a plan to gain more authority over the town of Baikonur.
Russia has agreed to hand over control of the Zenit launcher facility to Kazakhstan by the start of next year, Musabayev said at the parliamentary appearance last week. There is a geopolitical rub here in that Zenit is a Ukrainian system, TengriNews notes.
Taking Zenit-M under control would allow the Kazakhstan to continue implementing the Baiterek project [for Kazakhstan to create its own national space program] and possibly help it secure an agreement with Ukraine. At the same time it would relieve Russia from the cumbersome obligations at the space center it doesn't own.
This is a chance for Kazakhstan to show its worth and claim a place among the world's space powers, however, it is unclear how Kazakhstan is planning to proceed with the project since it lacks the technology and experience to develop a launching pad on its own.
Joshua Kucera, a senior correspondent, is Eurasianet's former Turkey/Caucasus editor and has written for the site since 2007.