Latest notes on Mir situation

Philip Chien (
Fri, 27 Jun 1997 00:40:30 -0400

this message is going to a couple of different folks, so some information
may or may not be of particular interest.

copyright 1997  Philip Chien Earth News.  All Rights reserved.  This
information is provided for informational purposes only, and may not be
redistributed or published without permission.

The early reports about the collision of Mir with Spektr's solar arrays had
the incorrect time.  The actual time was slightly before 4 am CDT - before
Mir was within range of the Russian ground station network.  I'm
speculating, but it's possible that the time in early news reports was when
the Russian ground controllers found out (e.g. when it came over a ground

The collision occured while the Mir crew was attempting to manually redock
the Progress M34 spacecraft.  The spacecraft was filled with garbage and
contained nothing of value.  It's still controlable and will be sent on a
destructive reentry within the next couple of days.  A similar redocking
test was aborted for the M33 Progress spacecraft due to problems with the
video system.  The purpose for these manual docking tests is a long term
goal to eliminate Progress'es automated docking system which is built in
the Ukraine (read: costs the Russian Space Agency hard currency).  It's
interesting to note that Vasily Tsibliyev is the same commander who was
aboard Mir for the previous Progress docking attempt, and also the
commander of a previous Soyuz which had a 'hard docking'.  There is a rumor
going around that he may have to go to a remedial driving school after he
returns to Earth.  ;-)

Here's the latest two line elements I have for Mir and Progress.  Note that
the Progress elements are from *before* the collision, so they're clearly
no longer valid.

1 16609U 86017A   97176.82697457  .00124055  00000-0  15170-2 0  4057
2 16609  51.6537  42.4695 0005208 181.3358 178.7767 15.59484524648362
1 24757U 97014A   97174.84051361 -.00016306 +00000-0 -19553-3 0 00920
2 24757 051.6553 052.4487 0005684 179.4104 180.7565 15.59493318012217

Most of Mir's expansion modules interface with the Mir core module through
the node, a roughly ball-shaped compartment on the front of Mir's core
module.  There are four hatches which go to each of the expansion modules
(Krystall, Kvant-2, Spektr, and Priroda) plus the forward hatch for Soyuz.
Ducts, power cables, electronics data lines, etc. pass through the hatches.
Unless there's an emergency like a depressurization the hatches remain open.

Spektr had Mir's most efficient solar arrays which generated most of the
power for the complex.  It also had the more recent batteries (read - more

When the depressuration occured the crew disconnected the power cables
which are routed inside Mir through the node.  The air ducts and other
lines were physically cut and then the hatch was shut.  Spektr is certainly
a vacuum now, and everything inside is considered lost.  The Russian Space
Agency may consider an IVA (Intra-vehicular Activity) where spacesuited
cosmonauts travel in to the Spektr module to salvage whatever's still
useful.  This concept gives new meaning to the term 'freeze-dried'!  It's
very likely that an attempt will be made to put in patch cables so Spektr's
solar arrays can continue to be used, either externally or internally.

It's standard proceedures to prepare the Soyuz spacecraft for an emergency
return whenever any emergency occurs.  But that in itself does not mean
that the emergency is serious enough for an actual evacuation.  Just taking
sensible precautions.  Unless something else occurs there's no reason to
believe that Mir will be abandoned in the near future.  If it turns out
that Mir cannot generate enough power from its remaining solar arrays to
make up the power from the night side, or another similar situation, then
the crew would have to abandon Mir.  However that would be a very orderly
process over several days with the crew collecting anything of value (e.g.
data tapes, notebooks, etc.) for return to Earth.

Spektr is one of Mir's more recent modules. It was launched in May 1995 and
arrived at Mir during Norm Thagard's stay (Mir 18).  One of the solar
arrays was jamed and engineers in the U.S. and Russia built folding tools
to help unjam the array.  Those tools were carried to Mir on the STS-71
shuttle mission and Mir 19 crew members Anatoly Soloviev and Nikolai
Budarin used them to free that array.

Spektr is the home of most of the U.S. experiments, and has been used as
the sleeping area for many of the U.S. astronauts, including Jerry Linenger
and Mike Foale.  Most of Mike's personal hardware was in Spektr and is
considered lost.  Mike radioed down a fairly long inventory list of items
which were in Spektr and it's expected that the next Progress spacecraft
will include replacements.  Among other items will be a pair of exercise
shoes for Mike Foale - since he doesn't fit in to any other pair onboard!

No consideration is being given to abandoning Mir, ejecting Spektr, or
sending the STS-94 mission towards Mir -- and where to people come up with
these crazy ideas?

There is no way to physically return Mike Foale to Earth without also
returning his Russian crewmates - until the shuttle arrives.  And as long
as Mir remains livable, no reason to abandon Mir.  However, it is possible
that - depending on how salvage and repair efforts go - that NASA may
decide that the effort to support future astronaut stays aboard Mir may not
be worth the benefits.  If this scenario occurs then Mike would return on
the STS-86 shuttle (currently scheduled to travel to Mir in September) but
no astronaut would take his place.  But no decision will be made to end
U.S. involvement with Mir until the situation is assesed in more detail,
and the success of repair efforts is analyzed.

The next Progress freighter will be delayed until early July.  It's highly
likely that there will be repair components on board (e.g. jumper cables to
get power from Spektr's arrays), and replacements for important items which
were lost with Spektr along with normal supplies which Mir needs.  It's
important to note that the Progress will use the automated docking system!

An EVA or IVA would occur in mid July and it's likely that it would be done
by the two Russian cosmonauts.  The exact details of what would be done on
this EVA are being analyzed by the Russian Space Agency, something which
has occured previously with both Mir and the Salyut 7 space station.  The
only American analogy would be the round-the-clock effort to salvage Skylab
after it's launch and stuck solar array.

Mir's other solar arrays are generating about 60 amps, much less than its
normal power operating levels.  So the amateur radio rigs are _certainly_
shut down.  The power level is enough to operate Mir's critical systems and
charge its batteries enough to last through the night side of the orbit.
But the key question is generating enough additional power for science (and
amateur radio of course!).

SAFEX-II is in the Priroda module which was not harmed.  However Priroda is
Mir's only module without solar arrays and most of its power was coming
from Spektr's arrays.  The 2 meter rig is located in the Mir core module.
As previously noted don't expect _any_ amateur radio activity until power
is restored.

The Mir crew is using its VHF radio (143.625 Mhz.) to communicate with its
ground stations.  There are several stations within Russia, plus U.S.
stations based at Wallops Island Virginia and Edwards Air Force Base
California.  Another Mir ground station is planned for White Sands New
Mexico, and I've heard about the possibility of additional stations.  Most
of these conversations will be in Russian and if Mir is over your horizon
while it's over one of the ground stations and the crew is awake you may be
able to monitor their conversations.  It should go without saying, but I'll
say it anyway.  This is *NOT* an amateur radio frequency, and you cannot
use it to talk to the Mir crew.  (unless you're authorized by NASA or the
Russian Space Agency of course ...)

Yes, I do need to get a more accurate calendar.  The first NASA press
briefing was on Wed June 25th, another was held on Thu June 26th.  I've
been informed another briefing will occur on Friday June 27th at 12:30 pm
Eastern time.

Philip Chien [M1959.05.31/31.145//]