Kazakhstan may allow Russian Mir-supply launch Friday
July 13, 1999
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Kazakhstan, locked in a row with Russia over the use of its cosmodrome, may allow the launch of a rocket carrying vital equipment for the aging Mir space station in three days, Russia's Mission Control said Tuesday.
The Progress cargo craft had been due to blast off Wednesday but was expected to be delayed after Kazakhstan suspended launches from its Baikonur base following the explosion of a Russian Proton-K rocket, which scattered debris across the state.
Russian officials have said the underfunded Mir station could crash to Earth unless Kazakhstan allows the rocket to leave by Sunday from Baikonur, which Moscow rents commercially.
"If the negotiations do not end by tonight, then probably the launch date will be moved to July 16," a spokeswoman for Mission Control said by telephone.
Preparations for the launch of the Progress were going ahead at Baikonur, the former Soviet space base. The craft is due to deliver food, fuel and a navigation system to Mir.
The navigation system is needed to stop Mir spinning out of control after the current Russian-French crew leave it unmanned in late August, and controllers say the crew will need a month to set it up.
The head of Russia's Space Agency, Yuri Koptev, said Monday the crew must receive the system by the weekend, and was confident an agreement would be reached in time.
Kazakhstan and Russia generally enjoy good relations, but on Monday Kazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev, who has accused Moscow of negligence, said the Proton crash was the latest in a series of complaints about how Baikonur was used.
"There is only so much that we should be asked to take," Balgimbayev said on state television. "This was the last straw."
Moscow has run up debts of over $300 million for the use of Baikonur, which costs $115 million a year to rent. Koptev said he expected a new deal on the use of Baikonur shortly, after Russia determined a way to pay its debts.
Kazakhstan says last week's crash dumped a highly toxic fuel component known in Russian as "giptil" over its Kar-Karalinsk region, and wants to renegotiate the agreement to make Russia more accountable for environmental damage, perhaps introducing a "permission" system for launches.
Moscow has promised to pay compensation for the crash and contribute to a clean-up operation.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Air pressure falls on Russian space station
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