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Tuesday, July 13, 1999 Published at 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK


Sci/Tech

Crash warning over Mir

Proton debris was spread over a wide area


BBC's Andrew Harding: The Kazakhs want compensation for the Proton crash
Russia's Mir space station could fall to Earth if Kazakhstan refuses to allow the launch of a planned supply ship this week, the Russian Space Agency has warned.

The Kazakh Government banned launches from its Baikonur cosmodrome last week after a Russian rocket - carrying a communications satellite - blew up soon after lift-off, scattering debris and fuel over a wide area of the Central Asian republic.


[ image: Baikonur is now in an independent Kazakhstan]
Baikonur is now in an independent Kazakhstan
Part of the rocket fell into a woman's backyard several hundred kilometres away in the northern region of Karkaralinsk.

Kazakhstan, which leases the cosmodrome to Russia, was furious and demanded compensation. It said the ban on further launches would stay in place until the cause of the rocket failure was identified.

But the Mir space station is in urgent need of supplies - and not just food and water for the three-man crew.

Mothballed Mir

A Progress supply vessel was scheduled to blast off from Baikonur on Wednesday, with equipment essential to maintaining control of the beleaguered craft when it is mothballed in August - after 13 years in orbit.


[ image: A new navigation system is needed to stop Mir spinning out of control]
A new navigation system is needed to stop Mir spinning out of control
The plan is that Mir will eventually head back to Earth, burning up in the atmosphere.

The head of the Russian Space Agency, Yuri Koptev, says that new navigational equipment must be installed to ensure control of the craft in unmanned flight.

"We must not allow the Mir space station to fly out of control," he said.

"Mir has to be kept safe to the very end. We must provide all the necessary equipment to make sure this happens. Otherwise, Mir could be a danger to the whole world."

Accident-prone

Mr Koptev said that, if a supply ship did not take off before 20 July, it could be too late.


BBC Correspondent Andrew Harding reports on Mir's latest problems
"We are trying to make our Kazakh colleagues understand the importance of this launch," he said. "The chances of being hit over the head by bits of the space station are equal for all, whether you are Russian or Kazakh or indeed any from other country falling within a 51 degree radius either side of Mir."

At the weekend, the Mir crew located a leak which had caused a minor depressurisation aboard the orbiting station.

Mir has suffered a series of accidents in recent years, including a crash with a cargo module in 1997, which pierced the hull and triggered a major emergency.

The latest launch failure is of concern to the nations involved in the International Space Station because the next phase of the project is due to be launched on board a Proton vehicle in November.



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