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Monday, 23 October, 2000, 11:54 GMT 12:54 UK
The end for Mir?
Mir, in space since 1986, reaches the end of its life
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The Mir space station, the symbol of former Soviet space glory, is to be deliberately burnt-up in the Earth's atmosphere next February, Russian news agencies have reported.

According to sources in Moscow, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov ended months of uncertainty when he told reporters that time and money had finally run out for the ageing space station.

A private company, MirCorp, has been trying to raise money to operate the platform and has been training an American millionaire for a mission at a cost of $20m (13.7m).

That is now unlikely to go ahead if, as reports suggest, the Russian Government prefers to concentrate its limited space resources on the International Space Station (ISS).

Final decision

"We are planning to bring the Mir down into the ocean at the end of February," Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov is quoted as saying.

Klebanov, who is in charge of space policy in the Russian cabinet, had previously voiced hopes that private funds would keep Mir in orbit.

Earlier this year, the station was given a new lease of life when the Netherlands-based MirCorp signed a lease agreement and provided some funds to keep it aloft.

But Klebanov left no doubt that the decision to destroy Mir was final, adding that officials were now preparing details of the operation to discard the 14-year-old station.

His spokeswoman, Oksana Onishchenko, said that the official cabinet decision to dump the space station would be made later, but added that Mir would certainly be brought down.

Fuel supply

MirCorp executives have been in Moscow trying to persuade government officials that Mir should remain in orbit.

Jeffrey Manber, president of MirCorp said: "We have cash flow estimates next year of over $100 million. We've demonstrated to the Russian Government that we have the capability, if we can get through this crisis now."

MirCorp had recently announced a drive to raise $117m (80.4m) in a stock offering to refurbish the station and keep it flying. Its plans included taking American businessman Dennis Tito to the station early next year for $20m ($13.7m).

But Russian space officials have grown increasingly sceptical about MirCorp's ability to raise the money needed to keep the station aloft, it was reported on Monday. MirCorp had said it would finance last week's fuel-supply flight by a Progress cargo ship, but Manber later admitted that it would be able to come up with the money only in two to three weeks' time.

Fiery grave

Mir has been losing altitude quickly since its latest crew left in June, and Russian space officials have said it is necessary to raise the orbit now so that the 130-tonne station does not fall out of control.

The uncontrollable plunge of Mir is a nightmare that Russian space officials want to avoid at all costs, since heavy fragments of the station could fall on populated areas.

Klebanov said that another Progress craft with a larger amount of fuel would be launched to Mir to provide the final impulse to bring it down.

Viktor Blagov, deputy head of the Russian space flight control centre, said: "The preliminary scenario for destroying Mir which can be accomplished in February 2001 has been prepared."

Mir's orbit, already decaying naturally because of atmospheric drag, will be reduced to 80 km (50 miles), causing the space station to enter the dense layers of the atmosphere where most of it will burn up. The remains of the station will then fall in a sparsely populated region of the Indian Ocean.

"Everything will go according to the laws of physics: the station will burn and break apart," Blagov said, adding that the entire operation would take several days.

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20 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir stays in space - official
16 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
First 'space tourist' announced
04 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Financiers confident of Mir future
27 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
What future for the space station?
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