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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Rules Sought After Rocket Crash

ReutersDebris of a Proton-M rocket lying at the crash site in Kazakhstan on Friday.
Kazakhstan plans to toughen launch rules at the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome after the crash of a Proton-M rocket last week.

A senior Kazakh environmental official said Friday that six crashes had occurred during launches over the past decade and that the latest was the last straw.

"We have come to the conclusion that these cannot be viewed as isolated incidents. They look like a system. Problems are occurring too often," the official, Zeinolla Sarsenbayev, told reporters, a statement posted on the Kazakh government's web site said.

"Our ministry will toughen requirements for the Russia side," he said, without elaborating on what the new requirements would be.

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov said, however, that one change might be a ban on launches when President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited areas where parts of rockets might fall. "If a presidential visit is taking place and a rocket is being launched, we must have the right to stop everything," he said Friday, a separate statement posted on the Kazakh government web site said.

Masimov told Kazakhstan's space agency chief during a Cabinet meeting to prepare for "serious talks" with Federal Space Agency director Anatoly Perminov.

A senior Russian space industry official said the talks might include demands from Kazakhstan for an increase in the rent that Russia pays for use of the cosmodrome as well as larger compensation for environmental damage caused by toxic rocket fuel during crashes. The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak with the media.

Russia pays $115 million per year to rent Baikonur under a contract that expires in 2050.

Russia most recently paid $1.1 million to Kazakhstan for damage sustained when a Proton-M rocket crashed after liftoff from Baikonur last year.

In Thursday's crash, the rocket, which was to lift a Japanese satellite into orbit, came down after one of its second-stage engines turned off at 2:46 a.m. Moscow time at an altitude of 76 kilometers, the Federal Space Agency said. Parts of the rocket fell in an uninhabited area 50 kilometers southwest of the Kazakh city of Dzhezkagan.

A commission set up to investigate the crash is considering the possibility that the component of the engine's control system responsible for directing the inclination of the engine's thrust malfunctioned and caused the failure, said an official with the rocket's builder, the Moscow-based Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center.

Calls to the Federal Space Agency's press service went unanswered Friday.

More than a dozen fragments of the crashed rocket have been recovered, the Kazakh government said. Television footage from the scene showed a 20-meter-deep crater at the impact site and twisted fragments of the rocket's body scattered around a barren, rocky steppe.

Kazakhstan has also set up a commission to investigate the crash.