- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 28, 2006

As the White House entertains Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev this week, the successful launch of Kazakhstan’s first satellite, KazSat 1, in June needs to be kept in mind as this will be the first time an American president will have the opportunity to congratulate a Kazakh head of state for reaching this milestone.

Kazakhstan has a national space agency, Kazkosmos, along with the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the world’s largest space launch complex, now almost completely demilitarized as Russian rocket forces are phased out there. And now it finally has its own satellite.

In 2006, it would be awkward at best if the White House mishandled the successful launch of KazSat 1, an event that has excited Kazakhs enormously, and which will ultimately benefit Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan as well.

And during the midweek Maine portion of President Nazarbayev’s official visit, a tour of the teleport in Andover would have been a good idea. It’s just a short drive from Kennebunkport — where the United States conducted its first successful trans-Atlantic satellite TV broadcasts in 1962 using a Telstar satellite. The timing was ideal. And the leaves are changing in Maine, providing for a spectacular drive.

While Andover might seem a relatively modest facility in contrast to Baikonur, it is still a historic site in terms of our nation’s contribution to modern satellite communications, and a global space infrastructure which now includes KazSat 1 and is so often taken for granted.

The White House does not need to be reminded too that, among other things, Kazakhstan is one of nine countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus region participating in the “SILK Project,” sometimes referred to as the “Virtual Silk Highway.” Named after the centuries-old Silk Road that links Europe to Asia, SILK is an extensive regional network that ties several Central Asian research networks together with European research networks via satellite, and terrestrial links. NATO provides significant financial backing for this project. Thus, an endorsement of SILK might be worthwhile.

SILK must also be kept in mind as China forges a new multinational partnership known as the Asia-Pacific Space Cooperation Organization (APSCO) whose members now include countries such as Mongolia and Pakistan. SILK was extended into Kabul last year, and a significant regional expansion of SILK is under way, advancing peaceful use of satellite technology for academic research, rural development and distance education in Central Asia in the process.

President Nazarbayev and his team of space and satellite advisers will be looking for fresh ideas and new technologies to glue KazSat 1 together with a state-of-the-art ground infrastructure which can support and quickly address a number of the country’s concerns. Use of satellite technology in Kazakhstan is entering a critical time. While a roadmap may well exist in terms of effective short-term use of KazSat 1, this is when the longer-term vision needs to take shape.

For example, it cannot be overlooked that India has recently launched the world’s first education satellite — EDUSAT — whichis entirely dedicated to supporting distance education projects throughout India.

Thus, the White House would be ill-advised to dedicate almost all the time spent during President Nazarbayev’s visit to regional energy and security concerns. Yes, these are important, but downplaying the significance of space and the potential role for satellite technology in Kazakhstan now, rather than showcasing it, would be a lost opportunity at best.

Peter J. Brown is a Maine-based free-lance writer who specializes in satellite communications.

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