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Mir News



Here's the latest wire copy on MIR status:
Roy Neal, K6DUE

Kazakhs clear way for launch to Russia's Mir

By Mike Collett-White

   
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, July 14 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan eased a ban on space 
launches from its Baikonur cosmodrome on Wednesday, clearing the way for 
Russia to send a cargo craft with vital supplies to the manned Mir space 
station. 

The ban remained in force only for rocket boosters of the type which crashed 
after takeoff on July 5 and prompted the former Soviet republic to 
temporarily suspend all launches. 

Wednesday's decision eased concerns in Russia, which uses Baikonur for its 
main launches, that Mir could eventually crash uncontrollably to earth if the 
Progress cargo craft did not deliver a navigation system to the ageing 
station. 

Russian officials, who negotiated an end to the ban at talks in Kazakhstan, 
said the Progress must be launched by Sunday so that the Russian-French crew 
can install it before Mir is left unmanned next month. The launch had been 
due on Wednesday. 

``If it is (launched) after July 18, it means we would not have enough time 
to install the system and could lose control of the station,'' Vyacheslav 
Mikhailichenko, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, told Reuters in 
Baikonur. 

``After a while it could simply fall out of orbit,'' he said. 

Kazakhstan suspended all launches from Baikonur last week after a Russian 
Proton rocket plunged to earth shortly after takeoff, scattering debris over 
the remote Kar-Karalinsk region in the centre of the vast Central Asian state 
of 15 million. 

A Ukrainian-Russian Zenit rocket carrying a survey satellite has been 
grounded since Thursday, but officials in Astana did not say whether its 
launch would be allowed. 

The Progress carrying the navigation system to Mir is to be launched on a 
Soyuz rocket and is a precaution against the more than 13-year-old Mir 
crashing to earth while Moscow tries to find the money needed to send up 
another crew. 

Russians Viktor Afanasyev and Sergei Avdeyev and Frenchman Jean-Pierre 
Haignere are due to leave Mir for earth on August 23, and need about a month 
to install the system. 

Kazakhstan kept its suspension of Proton launches in place because of fears 
that the highly toxic ``giptil'' fuel used to power such rockets could cause 
serious environmental damage if there is another accident. 

``The Kazakh side has raised the point that the rocket booster Proton is 
environmentally unfavourable. The question was raised, still stands, and no 
one plans to withdraw it,'' said Askar Abduzhapparov, deputy director of the 
Kazakh space agency. 

Initial tests at the scene of the crash by Russian specialists have not 
revealed any traces of giptil. 

Kazakhstan which has built strong ties with Moscow since independence in 
1991, wants compensation from Russia, the full payment of this year's 
Baikonur rent of $115 million and the opportunity to renegotiate parts of the 
bilateral agreement. 

According to an agreement reached at talks on Wednesday, Russia will pay full 
compensation for the damage caused by the Proton's crash and has promised to 
start paying rental payments in August. The sum of the compensation was not 
revealed. 

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