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Russian Official Plays Down Concerns on Future of Proton

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Proton rocket at Baikonur, KZ.Proton rocket at Baikonur, KZ.A top Russian official overseeing the nation’s defense sector said Wednesday that launches of the Proton rocket from Moscow-leased Baikonur cosmodrome are set to continue, reports.

Ties between Russia and Kazakhstan have been sorely tested by an explosion of the heavy-lift rocket in July that spread 600 tons of fiery toxic propellants in the vicinity of the launch site deep inside the vast Central Asian nation.

Kazakhstan has demanded $89 million in compensation for that incident, but there has been speculation Moscow is unwilling to pay that sum, raising doubts about prospects for the Proton, which is currently launched only from Baikonur.

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told deputies Wednesday in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, that he had discussed the Proton issue with President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a recent visit to Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana.

“In the course of things we came to a mutual understanding about resuming Proton launches from Baikonur,” Rogozin said.

The exact terms of the agreement remain unclear.

Launches of the Proton had been suspended for three months following an explosion of the Proton in July. Kazakhstan has long had reservations about the use of toxic fuels at Baikonur and insisted a cleanup be completed before launches resumed.

Russia has launched four Protons since the July disaster.

In January, the Kazakhstan’s Kazcosmos space agency threatened to pull out of a joint project with Russia to build a new launchpad at Baikonur.

The situation was resolved in February with an agreement to launch the Ukrainian-made Zenit rocket at the proposed new site, instead of the Russian Angara, as was previously planned.

The terms of the lease for Baikonur have been subject to dispute since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Russia currently leases the facility for $115 million annually.

December 12 2013, 13:31

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