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Kazakh search teams find Russian rocket in 119 pieces

Kazakh search teams have found 119 fragments of a Proton-M Russian rocket that crashed a week ago in Kazakhstan, the emergency situations ministry said Thursday.
ASTANA, September 13 (RIA Novosti) - Kazakh search teams have found 119 fragments of a Proton-M Russian rocket that crashed a week ago in Kazakhstan, the emergency situations ministry said Thursday.

A Proton-M rocket with a Japanese communications satellite on board crashed September 6 shortly after launch from the Baikonur space center.

The ministry said search teams have surveyed a total of 1,743 square kilometers (1,083 sq miles) of territory around the crash site, while a 12-member group decontaminated the area. The carrier had about 649 metric tons of toxic fuel at lift off, and 219 metric tons when it crashed.

It was the sixth time a rocket has crashed during lift off from the Baikonur space center.

The chairman of the Kazakh National Aerospace Agency said Tuesday the Russian government had not sent a special commission to visit the crash site.

Talgat Musabayev said only members from an expert team from the upper house of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, were working at the scene.

Kazakhstan said last Friday it wants to ban rocket launches from its Baikonur space center, which Russia rents, whenever the Kazakh president is in the area of the launch site or flight path.

The Proton-M rocket, which was launched from the Baikonur space center at 2:43 a.m. Thursday Moscow time (10:43 p.m. GMT Wednesday), experienced an engine malfunction and second-stage separation failure 139 seconds into its flight, and came down in the central Kazakh steppe, 50 kilometers (30 miles) southeast of the town of Zhezkazgan.

Possible environmental contamination from the booster's highly toxic fuel was a particular concern at the time, and a team was sent to the crash site to determine the extent of any pollution.

Although Russia and Kazakhstan have an agreement on launches from Baikonur until 2050, for which Moscow pays Astana $115 million a year, Kazakhstan recently said it would reconsider allowing further flights of the Proton because of the rocket fuel's toxicity and potential for catastrophic environmental contamination in the event of a launch failure.

The satellite was owned by JSat Corp. and would have provided communications links for Japan, the Pacific Region and Hawaii. The company currently operates eight geostationary communications satellites.

The Delaware-registered company International Launch Services (ILS), which organized the launch, is a Russian-American joint venture that has orbited 41 commercial payloads since 1996.

A spokesman for the Russian Federal Space Agency said Tuesday the Proton-M crash will not affect the launch of a Foton bio-satellite piggybacked on a Soyuz rocket, since the two rockets are entirely different.

"The Proton is a heavy rocket, which uses highly toxic heptyl as fuel, whereas the Soyuz is a medium-class booster using environmentally friendly fuel - kerosene and liquid oxygen," the spokesman said, adding that the two rockets are also produced by different plants - in Moscow and Samara, respectively.

He said launch preparations, set for September 14, are ongoing.

The Foton-M is a joint project of the European Space Agency and the Russian Federal Space Agency, and is primarily used "for physics and material science experimentation in weightlessness."

Last year, a Russian Dnepr rocket crashed on lift off from Baikonur, after which a special commission was formed to assess the resulting environmental damage. On the basis of its findings, Russia paid Kazakhstan $1.1 million in damages.

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