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Friday, 23 March, 2001, 09:24 GMT
Europe applauds textbook procedure
Esoc Esa
Darmstadt is used to track all European space missions
By the BBC's Matt McGrath at Esa's tracking station in Darmstadt, Germany

European space agency (Esa) officials were quietly congratulating themselves on a job well done after their radar stations tracked Mir to its watery grave in the South Pacific.


It deserved a good ending

Esa official
Soon after 0530 GMT, Esa's monitoring team were proclaiming that the final burn of the Progress cargo ship had been much more successful than anyone could have hoped.

Instead of the 23.5 metres per second deceleration that had been expected when the engines were fired, Mir achieved 40 metres per second, due in part to the atmosphere being thicker than expected.

This increased braking and ensured that Mir went down and broke up more quickly and more thoroughly.

Good relationship

One official joked when he saw the early data from the final burn that at the very least Germany was safe. Within minutes, others were stating categorically that Mir was in pieces and in the water, bang on target.

Esa has been a long-standing ally of the Russians in the exploration of space and particularly in utilising the Mir space station. Twelve Esa cosmonauts have flown on Mir and dozens of European science experiments have been carried out on the platform.

Mir Nasa
Twelve Esa cosmonauts have flown on Mir
So there were plenty of mixed feelings at the Darmstadt tracking centre as Mir hurtled into its watery grave.

One official told me he was glad that Mir ended in such a text book and spectacular fashion. "It deserved a good ending," he said.

And speaking from Moscow mission control, Frank Longhurst, of Esa's manned spaceflight directorate, said: "Mir's safe return to Earth has been executed safely and accurately - a fitting end to its impressive record.

"We expected no less from our efficient Russian colleagues and look forward to the new era, working together on the International Space Station."

Durable pieces

Through the night, two Esa radar stations tracked the final movements of the platform as the Russians narrowed the footprint in which the debris would land to an area some 100 kilometres wide by 2,500 long.

Mir Analytical Graphics Inc.
It is possible that the solar panels survived re-entry (artist's impression)
There was an air of calm as the two early manoeuvres went exactly to plan. The only concerns were about the attitude of the spacecraft as it faced the final burn. If the trajectory had wobbled during the last thrust, the consequences would have been unpredictable.

Professor Walter Flury, who led the Esa monitoring team, told BBC News Online that as well as the more durable pieces of the orbiting platform that were expected to hit the water, he felt there was a chance the station's solar panels might have survived.

"If they came through the heat of the atmosphere, they could float down like wings," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Matt McGrath in Darmstadt
There is pleasure at the Russians' success
The BBC's Andrew Clark
"Only a clear-up operation will confirm if any areas of land have been hit"
Mark Herring, eyewitness on Fiji
"It really was quite a brilliant, spectacular display"
Matt McGrath in Darmstadt
The final burn lasted longer than planned

Fiery descent

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