Spaceflight Now: Space Station Mir

Russian Mir space station reaches its 15th anniversary

Posted: February 20, 2001

Mir orbiting Earth. Photo: NASA
The Mir space station marked its 15th anniversary in orbit on Tuesday, one day after the captains of the Russian space program defended their decision to deorbit the pioneering outpost.

On Monday, at the press conference in Moscow, the Director of the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, Yuri Koptev and Chief of RKK Energia Yuri Semenov, argued that Mir long outlived its lifetime and the controlled reentry in mid-March would be the safest way to conclude its mission.

In the last few weeks, Communist members of the Russian Duma (parliament) launched a last ditch attempt to prevent Mir's deorbiting. The opponents of the decision to ditch Mir also held a demonstration in front of Moscow's town hall calling for the conservation of the outpost at the high orbit, before the funds for its further operation could be found.

During Monday's press conference, clearly aimed to sway public controversy surrounding Mir's last days, the space officials stressed that Mir's deorbiting would not mean the demise of the Russian space program.

Koptev also reminded that Russian involvement in the International Space Station program will require even more launches than during Mir era.

According to Koptev, this year Russia expects to conduct 9 launches within the ISS program, including manned spacecraft, cargo ships and a docking module for the Russian segment of the station. Russian government assigned 4.7 Billion Rubles for the program.

Yuri Semenov Chief Designer of RKK Energia station's principal operator also said that the end of Mir's mission would not result in the new layoffs at the company. Last year, RKK Energia had to reduce its workforce by around 10 percent.

As of February 20, Mir descended to the altitude of 275 kilometers, losing in average 790 meters per day as a result of the natural atmospheric drag. The station is now expected to reach the altitude of around 250 kilometers around March 9, (plus minus 5 days), when the mission control in Korolev could initiate the final braking maneuvers.

Currently, Mir remains in good health as ground controllers occasionally fire the station's small thrusters to maintain its slow spin in orbit, which allows to distribute evenly the exposure of the outpost's solar arrays to the Sun.

On Tuesday Mir reached its 15th anniversary in orbit. The Proton rocket carrying the core module, the original element of the outpost, blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome on February 20, 1986. Since then six permanent modules had been added to the station, bringing its total weight to around 130 tons.