Moscow - March 15, 2001
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.
Early Report From Interfax
The station's computer will send two control pulses, the first and the second moving the station into an elliptical orbit with apogee of 220 kilometers and an perigee of 165 kilometers. The perigee will be over the sinking area in the Pacific Ocean. The first pulse will be generated at 3:32 a.m. Moscow time and the second one, at 5:22 a.m. Moscow time when the station is outside the Mission Control Center's range.
During the two subsequent orbits that will take up to 90 minutes, the center will determine the exact features of the resultant orbit and the timing of the final control signal to be sent from the center. They believe that a pulse lasting abut 11 minutes will be sent between 8:28 a.m. and 8:48 a.m. Moscow time.
Fragments of the station that do not burn up in the atmosphere are expected to fall in the desired area of the Pacific Ocean at 9:21 a.m. Moscow time on March 22.
The area where pieces of Mir will fall into the ocean has changed slightly because several deserted islands belonging to France are located in the area of the Pacific that had initially been selected, Mir flight director Vladimir Solovyev told a news conference at mission control on Wednesday.
Initially Mir's small maneuvering engines will be used to slow it down, and in the final phase the main engine of the Progress cargo ship that is now docked with Mir and all the station's engines will be brought into play.
Solovyev said mission control has played out a large number of emergency scenarios and possible ways of dealing with them. For example, Mir's batteries could unexpectedly run down, shutting down the station's control systems. In that case mission control would switch to the backup system for controlling Mir's movements, and then switch to the computer on board the Progress ship.
Solovyev said mission control specialists do not rule out malfunctions in the central onboard computer, which has already happened repeatedly. In that case, mission control would also have to use the computer on Progress to control the station's flight. He added that mission control has not doubts about the reliability of the control system on Progress, which is monitored round the clock.
Solovyev said that many backup maneuvers for deorbiting Mir have been worked out in case something goes wrong.
The tourist planes and ships that plan to stay close to the area where fragments of Russia's Mir space station are expected to fall are not likely to see much, Solovyov told a news conference.
The Mission Control Center will not maintain contact with the planes and ships, Solovyov said. Once the final braking pulse is sent to Mir, the station's fall will be followed by Russian command and monitoring systems in Ulan-Ude, Ussuriysk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, he said.
The parts of Mir that have not burned up in the atmosphere will fall in the Pacific area where nobody resides and there is no shipping, Solovyov said.
Mir's altitude dropped 2.7 kilometers to 240.9 kilometers on Tuesday.
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Deorbiting A Space Station Without Hitting Anyone
Sydney - March 13, 2001
Bringing Mir down is one of the most challenging space manouvering tasks yet undertaken, but careful planning by the Russians has provided several backup plans in the event of problems with the deorbiting process. In this report, Ian Bryce takes SpaceDaily readers through the final days of Mir.
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