The orbital group of “KazSat” satellites allows organizing effective channels of satellite communications on the territory of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as in the border regions of Russia.
KazSat-1 was launched from the Baikour cosmodrome on June 18, 2006 — around six months later than originally forecast, hoisted into orbit by a Russian-made Proton rocket. Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin watched from a viewing platform as the powerful rocket lit up the pre-dawn sky.
All was well until June 2008, when KazCosmos declared that they had lost contact with their maiden satellite, which was built by Khrunichev and developed jointly with French-Italian aerospace manufacturer Thales Alenia Space. The loss of signal knocked TV stations off air. Those that could afford to do so, assumed the cost of switching to foreign satellites; others simply shut down. KazSat-1 was designed to have an operational life of just over 12 years.
That failure notwithstanding, Kazakhstan continued — despite some muted grumbling — to put its faith in Khrunichev and committed to KazSat-2. In mid-2009, then-Prime Minister Karim Masimov demanded intensified quality control from the Moscow-based manufacturer for what would become Kazakhstan’s second satellite.
Again, the project was beset by delays. An initial December 2010 launch date was missed. The revised appointment for a March 2011 launch also came and went. Finally, on July 16, 2011, a Proton rocket carried KazSat-2 into orbit. Like its doomed predecessor, the satellite is intended to operate for more than 12 years.
Other than some minor glitches, KazSat-2 has proven reliable so far. In June 2015, intense solar activity was cited as a reason for the transponders going offline. By the next day, however, all was back to normal.
KazCosmos no doubt will pray this latest hiccup is definitively resolved, although there is also KazSat-3. For that platform, which was launched into orbit in April 2014, Astana turned to a satellite builder based outside the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, called ISS-Reshetnev.
KazSat-3 was hailed as the most powerful yet, and is intended to cope with the ever-intensifying demand for high-volume transmissions from local television and telecommunications operators. The burden on KazSat-3 has been intensified by the gradual switchover from analogue TV to digital.
In September, the president of the Republican Center for Space Communications, Viktor Lefter, announced that the KazSat fleet had, over a five-year span, saved Kazakhstan a combined 18 billion tenge ($57.5 million). “That is how much Kazakhstanis would have paid for the services of foreign satellites if we did not have our own communications and broadcast system. Now, this money is in our economy,” Lefter said.
Since KazSat-3 alone reportedly set the country back $148 million, it is uncertain whether it is telecommunications companies or the taxpayers that have really saved money.
In July 2016, Information Minister Dauren Abayev said that the national broadcast satellite provider, Otau TV, would be ditching its previous reliance on foreign-owned platform Intelsat-904, and instead relying wholly on KazSat-3.
“The transfer of the network from a foreign satellite to a domestic one is a technical and political necessity,” he said.