June 16, 2008

Kazakhstan’s Sole Communications Satellite Breaks Down

Officials in Kazakhstan announced on Monday that its only communications satellite is currently out of control due to a computer glitch.

Launched in June 2006, the Russian-built KazSat-1 was the first of four satellites the country hoped to put into orbit by 2020 to establish the Central Asian country as a global space power.

Many television broadcasters in the country relied on KazSat-1 to receive communications, but the space agency is not optimistic about the livelihood of its satellite.

"There is a high probability that the satellite will be lost," Kazakhstan's National Space Agency said in a statement.

"It's still alive but it's not breathing well," said Agency head Talgat Musabayev, a former cosmonaut. "It is not responding to commands."

According to the agency, the satellite, which cost $60 million to $100 million at the time of launch, has been out of touch since June 8.

Musabayev said the satellite's onboard digital computing system caused the malfunction, forcing many broadcasters in Kazakhstan to switch to more costly back-up satellites, and other smaller companies had no choice but to close altogether.

Home to the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a space center built in Soviet times and now leased to Russia for $115 million a year, Kazakhstan has long harbored dreams of developing its own independent space program.

However, Musabayev said there has been a lack of a coordinated strategy on space development since Kazakhstan became independent of Moscow in 1991.

"There has been no focused approach," he said.

Although he did not directly blame Russia for KazSat's failure, Musabayev said his country may look to Western suppliers for future space equipment needs.


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