Russia: Mir Could Spin out of Control in Week if not Destroyed : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Mir Could Spin out of Control in Week if not Destroyed

MOSCOW, Mar 19, 2001 -- (Agence France Presse) Russian mission control prepared Monday to set a definitive timing for the destruction of the Mir space station amid concern that it could spin out of control within a week and crash to Earth.

After the latest in a series of delays, the 15-year-old orbiter is now expected to be ditched in the Pacific Ocean early on Friday, 24 hours later than the "time window" announced last week.

Originally planned for February 27-28, but postponed repeatedly because of technical breakdowns, the operation to bring Mir down to Earth has been put off course because the orbiter is descending at a slower speed than space experts calculated.

However, if the Pacific splashdown is delayed until after March 26, Mir could drop to a critical altitude, re-entering the Earth's atmosphere unguided and with unpredictable consequences, ground control warned.

"If the operation is not launched (before then), Mir will fall by itself," Russian mission control (TsUP) official Viktor Blagov told AFP.

TsUP said Saturday it was now 80 percent certain that debris from the orbiter would splash down into the Pacific Ocean on Friday morning Moscow time at around 0600 GMT.

The descent will be triggered when Mir reaches an altitude of 220 kilometers (130 miles) -- it was at 230 kilometers on Sunday -- when the Progress cargo ship's rocket engine will fire three short bursts.

The first two are to correct Mir's orbit, and the third is to send it plunging into the ocean between New Zealand and Chile.

Several governments have expressed concern that the space station might miss its target, noting the long series of technical problems on board Mir in the past few months.

In December, Russia's control center lost contact with Mir for almost 24 hours, triggering widespread alarm at the possible security threat if such a communication breakdown recurred during the re-entry operation.

Most of the station is expected to break up and burn as it hurtles through the Earth's atmosphere.

But around 20 tons of the platform's 137-ton 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 car, falling to Earth.

Debris is expected to rain down on the South Pacific in a target area 200 kilometers (120 miles) wide, and 6,000 kilometers long, between New Zealand and Chile.

The Russian space center has taken out insurance for 200 million dollars to cover possible damage.

The pioneering Soviet-era space station, launched in 1986, is being brought to Earth since Russia has found that it is unable to finance its commitment both to Mir and to the 16-nation International Space Station. ((§ion=default

-- Carl Jenkins (, March 19, 2001

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