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KazSat, Kazakhstan's first communications satellite, was launched in June 2006 amid huge fanfare. Symbolically it was a major event, since the large country located in the heart of the Eurasian continent has big aspirations for its future -- ambitions all sparked by Kazakhstan's vast oil reserves.

KazSat was intended to serve Kazakhstan's communications needs but space agency officials boasted when it was launched that other Central Asian states, the ones that don't have the funds to even consider launching their own satellite, could arrange to use KazSat. KazSat was exactly the sort of status symbol the country's leadership wanted.

But, on December 2, officials at the Kazkosmos space agency sadly told a parliamentary committee that KazSat was "lost." Agency chief Talgat Musabaev, a former astronaut, said, "during the night of November 26 the satellite completely lost its ability to function and did not respond to any commands." He said attempts by Kazkosmos personnel to reestablish control since November 26 had failed. Another Kazkosmos official said simply, "the satellite is lost."

It emerged that KazSat started to show signs of malfunctioning in June when some of its systems shut down. At the end of October, specialists from Kazakhstan and from Russia's Khrunichev space center (where KazSat was built) managed to partially restore the systems.

The unfortunate incident is unlikely to dampen Kazakhstan's extraterrestrial ambitions though. Kazakhstan is planning to launch more communication satellites. The satellite that just failed was technically designated "KazSat-1." Additionally, an astronaut from Kazakhstan is due to make a shuttle flight to the International Space Station in the next few years. So expect more space voyages from the Kazakhs.

-- Bruce Pannier

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