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Kazakhstan plans to continue developing space industry
Baikonur seen as technological asset
By Olga Pavlovskaya
ALMATY – Kazakhstan has announced its intention to further develop its space industry.
In 2050, the (Russian) lease expires on the Baikonur launch site; however, Kazakhstan plans to conduct independent space operations and further develop Baikonur.
“We will do all we can to make sure that the Baikonur launch site continues to develop, and one of our first undertakings is to build the Baiterek space rocket complex,” said National Space Agency (KazCosmos) chairman Talgat Musabayev.
More than 10 countries have been developing their space industry for 60-70 years. But Kazakhstan wants to start small, Musabayev said.
The design of the Baiterek space rocket complex, which will be built with international partners, will emphasise environmental safety. For example, it will feature the Angara launch system, based on the universal rocket module with oxygen and kerosene engines.
Grand plans aside, the project has encountered “serious problems” related to its commercial viability, because other space rocket complexes share the same latitude, in particular the Vostochny launch site, which may become a direct competitor for commercial launches, Musabayev said.
Such pessimism is unwarranted, though, said Meyrbek Moldobekov, deputy chairman of the space agency.
“We have conducted negotiations at head-of-state and prime-minister level,” he said. “We have the potential to create this complex.”
The cost of Baiterek is estimated at US $1.6 billion (240 billion KZT), but KazCosmos officials say they can bring down the cost by spending the minimum needed to support launching rockets. Kazakhstan hasn’t decided how to divide the construction expenses yet.
KazCosmos’ accomplishments, plans
KazCosmos is five years old this year.
“For now, you can count the accomplishments of Kazakhstani space exploration on one hand,” Musabayev said. “These include the launch of two astronauts back in Soviet times, renting out the Baikonur launch site, and the launch of the KazSat-2 spacecraft, which has been in orbit for a year now. Many Kazakhstani operators in the telecommunications industry are now using KazSat-2.”
Kazakhstan conducts a uniform space policy that many foreign scientists have approved, Musabayev said.
“There has also been progress in the development of the space industry infrastructure in Kazakhstan,” he said. “The National Space Agency has a central body, where experts from all over the republic work. Six aerospace companies have been established that will contribute to the development of the industry. Important findings and conclusions were made after the launch failure of KazSat-1, and this is also a step forward in the development of the country’s space industry. A bad experience is a lesson learned. Conclusions were drawn regarding the technology utilised, and changes were made to the legal foundation.”
In addition to Baiterek, a number of smaller projects are planned: a project to create a group of probes for the geometrical sounding of the Earth, a telecom satellite constellation project and a project to expand the ground-based infrastructure for servicing satellites.
Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev set a priority: work out and gradually implement a long-term programme of creating and developing a space industry.
Presently, the main priority in space-related activity is the creation of a robust space industry as a scientifically and technologically advanced economic sector capable of accelerating Kazakhstan’s industries and innovative processes and of strengthening national security, Musabayev said.
SATC, national centre planned
In addition, a Spacecraft Assembly and Testing Complex (SATC) is being built in Astana. “This had never happened before in Kazakhstan; no one had even considered it. Today we are creating (Kazakhstani) history,” Moldobekov said, adding it should open within two years.
The complex, which will be built in co-operation with the French company EADS Astrium, will be the most technologically advanced one in the CIS, Musabayev said. “The complexes now operating in the CIS were built back in Soviet times, and this one will be equipped with the latest technology,” he said.
This complex will have a development laboratory, where scientists will work on everything from coming up with ideas to implementing them.
Its main purpose will be to launch satellites, not just for Kazakhstan but also for other countries. Kazakhstan plans to carry out the first stage of satellite production in conjunction with the French, but later on Kazakhstan should be able to work independently.
Also, the National Space Centre is under construction in an Astana suburb.
This centre will have a high-precision satellite navigation system. “The emphasis needs to be made on increasing Kazakhstan's share in providing technological content, in spite of its co-operation with other countries,” said Musabayev.
The deadline for the first 60 differential stations is set for the end of 2013 or beginning of 2014. The project took so long because the country couldn’t find additional funding partners and a building contractor right away. Another problem was to delineate the responsibilities of each government entity involved in the project, Musabayev said.
Ruslan Agatayev of Karaganda, 22, is in his last year at Tomsk State University in Russia, where he studies at the Radiophysics Faculty of the Department of Space Physics and Ecology. “Five years ago, when I started university, I was driven only by my romantic dreams to get closer to space, to do something useful for its exploration, but I had no idea that it would be possible in Kazakhstan,” he said.
Agatayev expressed confidence he could apply his knowledge in Kazakhstan. “When I found out that the National Space Centre will be built just 200km from my hometown, in the capital, I realised that I don’t have to worry about not getting a job, and that I will be able to work for my motherland,” he said.
Many say that present-day Kazakhstani enterprises don’t typically hire young specialists, preferring the more experienced, Musabayev said. In reality, hiring specialists without previous work experience, then training and developing them, has indisputable advantages, he said.
KazCosmos enterprises have good reason to attract energetic, ambitious and open-minded personnel. “Therefore, we suggest all sorts of internships to young specialists, giving them the possibility to show what they can do and to strengthen their chances of staying on at a possible future workplace,” he said.
Many young specialists who lack practical experience can still be competitive candidates, he said.
Progress on projects
“In order for the complexes to be fully functional, we not only need to construct the building itself and ship in the equipment but also make sure that our people are able to work with this equipment,” Musabayev said. “For this, they need to obtain not only theoretical knowledge but also practical, which is exactly what is happening now. Some of the specialists are now being trained in Toulouse, France.”
Herve Lambert, an EADS Astrium representative who visited Kazakhstan July 5, told Central Asia Online that he had examined the initial construction of the complex as well as other space projects.
“All the initial stages of the construction, even the joints between the plates, have been done with exceptional quality,” he said. “We did not expect that it would go this well, and it is clear that the work being done is not just for show. In the space industry, this is how things have to be done.”
“The SATC under construction will be one of the most technically advanced complexes in the world,” Lambert said. “The goal of our work is for Kazakhstan's satellites to be associated not only with Kazakhstan's space programme, but also to create the opportunity to work together with foreign partners.”