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Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 09:03 GMT
Cargo spacecraft docks with Mir
Mir is leaking air
Mir needs to go into a higher orbit
A Progress cargo craft carrying oxygen for the Russian Mir space station docked successfully with the orbiting platform at 1103 Moscow time (0803 GMT) on Thursday, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS has reported.

All onboard systems performed "excellently" and "in accordance with the planned schedule", the agency said, which was quoting Flight Control Centre.

The Progress ship was launched on Tuesday. Its flight is the first step in getting the Mir space station, which has been vacant since September last year, up and running again.

Last week, controllers at Mir's Mission Control Centre near Moscow activated the space station's control computers and gyroscopes. The station's slow spin was halted and it was positioned so that its solar panels pointed towards the Sun.

Mir was also boosted into a higher orbit. The Progress ship will push it even higher, by 40-60 kilometres. The present average altitude of the station is between 310 and 320 km above Earth. This is not high enough for the coming manned mission and it will have to move out to a level of 360-380 km.

Problem leak

The current plan is that on 1 March two cosmonauts will blast off in the Soyuz TM-30 spacecraft to re-inhabit the space station.

Officials say that their mission will last "at least 45 days".

The crew will attempt to find a small but troublesome leak. Before the last crew left last year, they pumped the station up to 10% above normal air pressure. Since then it has slowly declined to about 70% of normal pressure. Air is now seeping out of the station at a rate of about 1% per week.

The Progress supply ship is carrying two tonnes of supplies, including water, spare parts, food and all the equipment necessary for the cosmonauts.

But it also carries the vital supplies of new air.

The Russian Government still needs to find more money to keep Mir in space beyond August. At one time it said it took $250 million a year to keep Mir functioning but this has recently reduced to $50 million. This is a much more realistic budget and well within the range of private funding.

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See also:

20 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir stays in space - official
14 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir may become space hotel
13 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
New crew to visit Mir
11 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
New delay for space station
16 Sep 99 | Sci/Tech
Mir: The end
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