Kazakhstan Bills Russia for Baikonur Cleanup

БайконурASTANA – Kazakhstan has sent Russia an $89 million bill via diplomatic channels for the cleanup of the crash of its Proton-M rocket earlier this year. Russia is disputing the amount.

Shortly after taking off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in July 2013, the rocket exploded, spilling roughly 600 tons of heptyl, amyl and kerosene fuel. Roscosmos, Russia’s Federal Space Agency, began cleanup efforts almost immediately and finished in late September. At the time, Akim (Governor) of the Kyzylorda oblast Krymbek Kusherbayev said they would continue to monitor the area, but that it did not “raise any concerns.”

On Nov. 22, Kazakhstan’s Ministry of Environment and Water Resources said that the damage to the environment had been assessed at over 13.69 billion tenge (US$89 million) and that Roscosmos representatives in the working group overseeing the cleanup had announced their readiness to discuss compensation. Now, however, Roscosmos press spokesman Sergei Gorbunov says Russia will conduct its own on-site review of the damage and Kazakhstan’s calculations, Russia’s Izvestia News reported on Nov. 27.

Russia successfully launched another Proton-M rocket from Baikonur on Sept. 29. Its launch had been delayed until the cleanup was completed. Russia conducts almost all of its commercial rocket launches from Baikonur and delays of commercial launches can lead to hefty fines by clients.

Kazakhstan’s approval of only 12 launches at the beginning of 2013, citing environmental concerns, have led to tension between the two countries and threats by Russia to reduce the $115 million it pays annually in rent for the space complex.

Russia and Kazakhstan have a lease agreement on Baikonur that allows Russia to continue operating the site through 2050, with the increasing involvement of conduct technicians and scientists. The space agencies of the two countries agreed on Nov. 26 to develop a new cooperation programme to 2030, including creating joint projects at Baikonur.

Andrey Grozin, head of the Central Asia and Kazakhstan Department of the Institute of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Countries in Moscow suggested in a September interview with Pravda.Ru that programme changes may include dropping the current lease agreements in favour of more cooperation and a greater share for Kazakhstan of Russia’s launch profits.

Kazakhstan’s national space agency has also said that it does not exclude the possibility of working with Western countries at the space complex, if the price is right. NASA, which ended its shuttle programme in 2011, has a contract with Russia to launch astronauts from the site, which it has extended into 2017. Russia is also building a new cosmodrome in its far east, seen by many as a shift away from Baikonur. Its first launch from its new cosmodrome is scheduled for 2015. And despite the lease agreement, Russia’s space programme has created a number of possible scenarios for its work at Baikonur, including the possibility of pulling out almost completely in 2020, as reported by Russia’s Izvestia on April 8.

Kazakhstan also plans to increase investments in its own space programme, as laid out in its development programme through 2020. The country plans to launch its third telecommunications satellite, KazSat-3, from Baikonur in early 2014. All the KazSat satellites have been built by the Russian Reshetnev Information Satellite Systems company.