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Kazakhstan delays $223 mln loan in joint space project with Russia

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ASTANA, March 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's delay in the implementation of a joint space project has compelled Kazakhstan to put off a $223 million loan for the venture, a Kazakh space official said Tuesday.

In 2004, Russia and Kazakhstan initiated the Baiterek project to build a space complex at the Baikonur space center, which Russia rents from the Central Asian country, to launch the Angara launch vehicles, capable of carrying 26 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbits.

"Maturity provisions in the loan agreement are particularly critical for the Baiterek joint venture, and the agreement cannot even be implemented hypothetically given that Russia has put off the previously fixed deadline from 2008 to 2011," said Talgat Musabayev, the Kazakh aerospace agency director.

He quoted the Russian side as saying that tests of the Angara at the Plisetsk launch center in northern Russia had been postponed till 2011.

"Considering that the Baiterek launch complex was developed for launching this type of rocket, it is necessary to postpone the implementation of the whole project," the official said.

Baiterek, which experts deem to be one of the largest space projects in the former Soviet republics, is being implemented on a parity basis and enjoys tax, customs and other privileges.

"From the strategic viewpoint, developing cooperation with Russia, particularly in joint space projects, is a priority which will help Kazakhstan along with Russia secure access to world market services in spacecraft launches and create a technological base for designing and producing spacecraft," Musabayev said.

He said Kazakhstan was also ready to join Russia's global navigation system Glonass project, and that a corresponding draft intergovernmental agreement had been prepared.

Glonass is a Russian version of the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS), which is designed for both military and civilian use, and allows users to identify their positions in real time. The system can also be used in geological prospecting.

The Russian space agency said earlier that Russia was in talks with the United States and the European Space Agency to prepare agreements on the use of Glonass jointly with the GPS and Galileo satellite navigation systems.

The agency plans to have 18 satellites in orbit by late 2007 or early 2008, and a full orbital group of 24 satellites by the end of 2009.

The first launch under the Glonass program took place October 12, 1982, but the system was only formally launched September 24, 1993.

Musabayev said Kazakhstan was eager to send its cosmonauts to the International Space Station. But he specified that with the scrapping of the U.S. shuttle program from 2009, Russian Soyuz TM-A spaceships will become the only delivery vehicles to the station, which made chances for Kazakh participation minimal.

Musabayev explained that Kakazh cosmonauts took flight engineer courses, as they were not allowed to be flight commanders without Russian citizenship, while the third crewman used to be a scientist or a commercial space tourist.

"But theoretically, with the closure of the shuttle program, the U.S. as one of the main partners in the ISS project has all but reserved the flight engineer's seat for the next three years," Musayev said, adding that this denied access to the ISS to everyone except NASA or European Space Agency representatives.

He said the necessity to work out an agreement on Kazakhstan's participation in ISS missions had been voiced during consultations with Russian partners.

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