Re: Taco Bell and the Mir...

  • From: "M.K. Chatterji" <chat@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: technocracy@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2001 10:03:04 -0600


Wednesday March 21 4:18 PM ET
Russia Readies Mir for Ocean Dump


By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) - The Mir space station reached a lower orbit Wednesday,
allowing Russian space officials to start steadying the slowly rolling craft
and charging its unstable batteries - the final preparations for dumping it
into the South Pacific this week.

The success of the de-orbiting hinges on whether Mission Control can control
the delicate operations on the station as it circles 132 miles above Earth -
the orbit designated as the starting point for the descent process that is
to end with re-entry Friday, said Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin.

``The next step will be bringing Mir to a stable position on Thursday,'' he
said.

The key will be to orient the station so its solar panels can soak up the
maximum amount of energy possible to charge the batteries.

The 15-year-old Mir, which officials say is decrepit and too expensive to
operate any more, has been left to drift in a slow rolling motion since the
end of January to save its batteries and fuel for re-entry. It slowly
descended on its own into the new orbit over several weeks.

Mission Control officials have acknowledged that switching on its
computer-controlled orientation system could be tricky.

In December, Mission Control lost contact with the station for more than 20
hours because the batteries suddenly lost power. Space officials have
managed to retain contact with Mir during several subsequent power losses,
but each of those incidents disabled its central computer for days.

Mission Control experts have worked out a backup - using the onboard
computer and separate radio communications of the Progress cargo ship docked
at the station.

If Mir's position can't be stabilized, the re-entry process will become
uncontrollable.

At around 4 a.m. Thursday Moscow time (8 p.m. EST Wednesday), Mission
Control will begin sending computer commands to switch on Mir's orientation
system and fire thrusters to steady the station, a process that will take
several hours, he said.

If the process goes smoothly, Progress will fire its engines twice Friday
for about 20 minutes, at around 3:30 a.m. (7:30 p.m. EST Thursday) and 5
a.m. (9 p.m. EST) during consecutive orbits. That will slow the station and
change its orbit from round to elliptical.

Then, at around 8 a.m. Moscow time (midnight EST), Progress engines will
fire one last time for 23 minutes to send the station hurtling into the
South Pacific between Australia and Chile. Most of Mir is expected to burn
up in the atmosphere during re-entry, but up to 27.5 tons of debris are
expected to reach Earth in an oblong dump zone centered roughly around 44
degrees south latitude and 150 degrees west longitude.

On Wednesday, Chile expressed its ``concern and displeasure'' over the
dumping, ordering its ambassador to Russia to reject an invitation by Moscow
to monitor Mir's fall from the space center.

As a precaution, all flights between Chile and Tahiti were suspended for
Thursday and Friday, Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said.

Space officials were confident of a safe descent, pointing to their
experience in dumping dozens of Progress ships and other spacecraft into the
same area of the Pacific.

But the 143-ton station is by far the heaviest spacecraft ever dumped, and
its size and shape make it difficult to exactly predict the re-entry. ``It's
an experiment,'' Mir cosmonaut Valery Ryumin said on Echo of Moscow radio.
``No one has experience at this.''

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