Russia announces "time window" for Mir splashdown March 22 : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Russia announces "time window" for Mir splashdown March 22

MOSCOW, March 15 (AFP) - Russia announced Thursday the most precise timing yet for its destruction of the Mir space station, saying debris from the 15-year-old orbiter would splash down into the Pacific Ocean "around 0800 GMT" on March 22.

Russian mission control would direct a rocket engine to fire three short bursts overnight on March 21, causing the station to tilt and re-enter the atmosphere, a spokesman for the Russian mission control centre (TsUP), Vsevolod Latychev, told AFP.

Mir would then burn up and debris would rain down on the South Pacific sea in a target area 200 kilometres (120 miles) wide, and 6,000 kilometres long, between New Zealand and Chile, Latychev said.

Technician Viktor Blagov said Mir would fall "between 46 and 48 degrees latitude south," its descent lasting "around 40 minutes," with the morning of March 22 Moscow time the most likely "time window" for its splashdown.

TsUP officials said that Mir's altitude was currently 238.5 kilometres, with the final descent due to be triggered once it reaches 220 kilometres.

Around 20 tonnes of the platform's 137-tonne mass are expected to survive the burn-up, with 1,500 pieces of debris, mostly very small but a few of them as large as a small car, falling to Earth.

Experts have warned of the operation's immense complexity -- no object the size of Mir has ever been brought back to Earth before -- and governments on five continents have expressed concern at the possibility of debris crashing into their backyards.

Russian officials are stressing that the chances of debris falling on inhabited areas are minimal.

However, the Russian space centre has taken out insurance for 200 million dollars to cover possible damage.

In order to prevent any untoward events, Blagov said mission control would also deploy several hundred specialists, plus "a reinforced group," to monitor the last stages of the Russian Mir station's flight and its sinking.

And he estimated that thousands of people from the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's Far East to Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland would be tracking the orbiter's last hours, he was quoted as saying by ITAR-TASS.

"We shall enlist the best forces," he said, adding that Mir's destruction would pose not only a technical but also a psychological challenge to Russian space experts.

"These people controlled the station's flight for years, and now they will have to sink it," Blagov said.

However, he added that not a single mission control officer had refused to come to work on the last day of the Mir era.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 17, 2001


Saturday, March 17, 2001

Australia on alert as "Mir' makes descent to Earth

From Conor Lally, in Sydney SPACE: Australian emergency services and armed forces have been placed on alert as the troubled Russian space station Mir makes its descent to Earth.

Up to 1,500 fragments will survive re-entry and with five or six fragments expected to be as big as small cars travelling at 1 kilometre per second, any mistake in plotting Mir's final path could be catastrophic.

Australia may be over 2,000 miles from the intended splashdown point around halfway between Chile and New Zealand but it has been hit by space debris in the past and this time round the country is nervous.

Mir, which is being brought down because of its age, has been fitted with a number of rockets which will be ignited to slow and control its descent as it nears the Earth. But if these were to malfunction, controlling the craft would be a much more difficult proposition. Australian nerves have been further frayed by the fact that Mir has had so many problems in the latter part of its extended term in space.

Perhaps most worrying was Russia's loss of contact with the station for 24 hours last month. Coupled with all of this is Australia's already uneasy relationship with debris from outer space.

In July 1979, NASA's 77.5 tonne Skylab, after six years in space, surrendered to the Earth's gravitational pull, reentered the atmosphere, and broke up with debris crashing into the Indian Ocean and Western Australia. Nobody was killed but the sonic boom from the particles woke sheep farmers from their sleep. The local Esperance Town Council vented its spleen at the incident by giving NASA a $200 ticket for littering.

In 1989 Australia was once again in the wrong place at the wrong time when a Soviet Cosmos satellite fell in Central Australia. Again, nobody was injured.

More recently, in November 1996, the failed Russian Mars- 96 space probe carrying radioactive plutonium crashed towards the country but nobody thought to tell the Prime Minister, Mr John Howard. Defence Department emergency planners later said they were too busy implementing a Yellow Alert, the second-highest level of radioactive emergency, to tell the hapless Mr Howard. Instead the first the Prime Minster knew of the possible disaster was when then president Clinton phoned him about the matter over two hours after the initial warning was given. In the end the probe, which had failed shortly after take- off, landed in the Pacific Ocean.

This week, the Australian authorities were at pains to demonstrate they are better prepared than five years ago.

Emergency Management Australia (EMA), a division of the Department of Defence, on Monday summoned members of the press to a briefing in Sydney to explain the country's contingency plan in the event of anything going wrong. It made for somewhat unsettling listening.

The director general of EMA, Mr David Templeman, said all of the emergency services and armed forces had been briefed and were ready to move in and mount rescue missions should the need arise.

"Due to the variable nature of the atmosphere and the shape of Mir, its performance is unpredictable," he said.

The international space community was confident in the Russian government's ability to safely de-orbit Mir, he added.

-- Martin Thompson (, March 17, 2001.

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