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First Kazakh Satellite Put Into Orbit

(AFP) June 18, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian Proton rocket has carried Kazakhstan’s first satellite into orbit around the Earth. With the launching of the "KazSat" communications satellite, Kazakhstan joins the list of nations in the space race.

With Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin watching, a Russian rocket blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early on June 18 carrying the "KazSat" satellite.

"KazSat" will be used for television broadcasting and communications not only in Kazakhstan but also in neighboring Central Asian states Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as well as parts of central Russia.

Hours before the launch, a Russian Orthodox priest blessed the rocket and the cosmodrome technicians.

At 4:44 local time the Proton rocket carrying "KazSat" lifted off from its launch pad at Baikonur.

Technicians at the cosmodrome tracked the rocket as it entered outer space and placed the satellite in its proper orbit.

Joint Effort

Nazarbaev and Putin toasted the successful launch after it was confirmed the satellite was put into its proper orbit. Putin said the launch of "KazSat" was the first example of much greater cooperation in space between the two countries.

"We are giving a start to a large joint program in the sphere of space exploration. This concerns joint scientific research, the training of personnel and creation of the necessary guidance and communications systems," Putin said.

Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyar Akhmetov said it his country would be putting more satellites into space in the near future. The chairman of Kazakhstan’s Aerospace Committee, Almas Kosunov, said a tender for building "KazSat-2" would be held in the coming days. President Nazarbaev said the satellites would link up to the GLONAS satellite system developed by the Russian military in the 1980s.

"We will work on two more 'KazSat' satellites, connected to the [Russian satellite system] GLONAS, and the construction of a new launch site for the new Angara rockets. This means Kazakhstan has definitely become a space power," Nazarbaev said.

Russia’s Krunichev design center built the KazSat satellite and trained 35 Kazakh technicians how to operate it. Spokesman for the Russian Space Agency Igor Panarin called the launch a victory for both Kazakhstan and Russia.

Kazakhstan has intensified its cooperation with Russia in space exploration in recent years. The Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome is located in Kazakhstan. Russia continues to use the cosmodrome, paying $115 million rent annually to Kazakhstan.