Mir operations in 2000
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Missions to Mir in 2000:
The beginning of the new millennium brought a new hope to the keepers of the Mir space station. A deal reached by the management of RKK Energia with a group of US taikoons at the end of 1999, for the first time promised real and significant investments into the ailing space station.
At the beginning of 2000, after months in financial and political limbo, leaders of the Russian space industry had approved a plan to send the first privately financed crew to the Mir space station at the end of March 2000.
On January 10, 2000, the council of chief designers, including the heads of Russia's major space centers, discussed fate of Mir in Korolev, in light of a successful bid to raise private funds to operate the station.
Following the chief designer council, the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, was expected to review the plan on January 12, 2000 and make an official recommendation to the government to restart manned operations onboard Mir.
At the time, RKK Energia and Rosaviacosmos indicated that funding for a one-and-half-month-long mission to Mir had been secured. However, RKK Energia was still trying to obtain funds for a longer expedition, which could last up to six months.
The mission plan
To prepare a manned expedition to Mir, RKK Energia scheduled the launch of a Progress cargo ship carrying several tons of fuel, food rations and around 150 kilograms of compressed air to the station.
The air supply onboard the Progress would be used to restore the atmosphere inside the station, which has been leaking since 1999. At the beginning of 2000, the pressure inside the station fell to 584 millimeters on the mercury table, losing 0.5 to 0.8 millimeters a day. The lowest acceptable level of air pressure for safe crew presence is 560 millimeters or 10.8 pounds per square inch.
According to the plan, after Progress would dock with the uninhabited station, the ground control in Korolev would attempt to refill its atmosphere using radio commands. If this attempt failed, the new crew would use special equipment to safely enter the station and manually refill the craft.
The air supply on board Progress would allow controllers to raise pressure inside the station up to 650-700 millimeters.
The Progress launch from Baikonur was originally planned for January 24, 2000. However, it was indicated during the meeting on January 10 that it would most likely be delayed until January 31, 2000. This delay was due to a schedule conflict with the test flight of the Fregat upper stage by the Starsem company. Both vehicles were to be launched by the Soyuz launcher and use the same fueling and tracking facilities.
Depending on the success of operations to replenish Mir's atmosphere, a second Progress launch to Mir was planned for the end of April or May 2000. One or two more Progress cargo ships would have to be sent to Mir, if RKK Energia was to go ahead with its full-length expedition.
On January 6, 2000, the station's flight control system was tested and performed well. The ground controllers sent the station into a slow spin, with a rate of around 0.2 degrees per second, to provide good thermal control and even exposure of the craft's solar panels to the sun.
The ISS effect
The Russian decision to reactivate Mir generated a wave of criticism from NASA. The US space agency believed that resumption of manned operation onboard Mir would further degrade the ability of the cash-strapped space industry in Russia to fulfill its obligations in the International Space Station, ISS, project.
Earlier reports from Korolev indicated that the RKK Energia production facilities might be strained if it was to supply ships for both Mir and the ISS. However, at the beginning of 2000, the ISS program was in hiatus, in the wake of the Proton rocket crash in October 1999.
According to reliable sources in Russia, the launch of Zvezda module, the crucial element of the ISS, was then slated for July 2000. This schedule pushed the Progress and Soyuz launches to the ISS, to the second half of 2000. At the same time, NASA has pressed Rosaviacosmos to abandon Mir to concentrate its scarce resources on the ISS. However, in Russia, Mir enjoyed much wider support than the ISS.
The Soyuz spacecraft, carrying two professional cosmonauts and possibly a movie actor, was scheduled for launch toward Mir on April 3, 2000. The launch has been delayed from the end of March to avoid schedule conflict with the launch of the commercial Soyuz/Fregat rocket planned for March 20.
Another Progress cargo ship could be launched to Mir in May 2000, if RKK Energia would be able to raise enough money to finance the mission. In the meantime, brand-new Soyuz and one Progress vehicles were ready for shipment to Baikonur around March 15, 2000. At the time, around 20 spacecraft were in different stages of completion at RKK Energia's the assembly plant or in the KIS test facility, in Korolev, near Moscow, however, the work on them has been hampered by the financial problems.
The presidential election campaign in Russia, which formally brought to power in Kremlin Vladimir Putin, put an additional strain on the federal budget, further delaying the financing of the space industry.
Preparing Mir for the crew
At the meantime, the Mir space station appeared to be ready for the upcoming Mir mission. Soon after the arrival to Mir of the new Progress cargo ship last month, controllers successfully tested the system of valves, which would allow refilling Mir's atmosphere from the cargo ship's supplies. Since leak rate went down along with the pressure inside, the ground control decided to refill the atmosphere to the normal level only shortly before the arrival of the crew. The search for the leak would be one of the main tasks for the new arrivals in the initial phase of the mission.
To save energy and resources of the station, in the middle of February 2000, the ground control turned off the station's flight control system, including its main computer and 12 gyrodines providing highly accurate orientation. The station was sent into slow spin to provide its solar panels with equal supply of energy.
The station would remain in the sleeping mode until March 25, when its main computer was scheduled to be reactivated. The station's small thrusters would then be used to stop its spin, the new flight control algorithms would be uploaded into onboard computers and, finally, the gyrodines would start spinning. The whole process of Mir's waking up was expected to take 3-5 days.
April 4: Soyuz TM-30 lifts off
The launch of the Soyuz TM-30 spacecraft, carrying the 28th long-duration crew to the Mir space station, was scheduled for 9:01:26 a.m. Moscow Time Tuesday (1:01:26 a.m. EST) on April 4, 2000.
The State Commission, overseeing the launch, was expected to reconvene at 3:30 a.m. Moscow Time on April 4 at Baikonur to give a final go-ahead for the fueling of the Soyuz launch vehicle. The fueling process was expected to start around 4:00 a.m. Moscow Time on April 4.
Following the old tradition, the crew would report the readiness for the launch to the Chairman of the State Commission. The event would take place at 5:45 a.m. Moscow Time on April 4, right outside of the Soyuz processing building of Area 2 at Baikonur.
Minutes later, the crew would board a bus, which will deliver them to the launch pad of Area 1 a few miles away. Cosmonauts are expected to take their seats in the reentry capsule of the Soyuz spacecraft around 6:25 a.m.
According to the information from Rosaviacosmos, the separation of the Soyuz spacecraft from the third stage of the launch vehicle was scheduled for 9:10:15 a.m. Moscow Time.
The Soyuz spacecraft was expected to reach the orbit 193 by 235 kilometers right below and behind Mir. Three engine firings over the next two days would bring the Soyuz within docking distance with the Russian orbiting outpost.
The docking between Mir and Soyuz TM-30 was planned for 10:33 a.m. Moscow Time on April 6, 2000.
April 5: Soyuz chases Mir
Preparing for the docking with the Mir space station, the Soyuz-TM-30 spacecraft is closing on the vacant Russian orbital outpost today.
On April 5, cosmonauts once again fired the engine onboard the Soyuz, bringing the spacecraft ever closer to the station. The engine was ignited at 9:57:51 Moscow Time on April 5 and fired for 6.1 seconds, as the spacecraft was passing its 17th orbit around the Earth.
The spacecraft completed two initial maneuvers during the third and fourth orbits, hours after its liftoff into the clear sky over Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.
After the latest maneuver, Soyuz-TM-30 climbed into the orbit 287 by 253 kilometers, still below the station. At the same time Mir was circling the Earth at 347 by 329-kilometer orbit. The lower orbit allowed the Soyuz to complete each orbit sooner than the station does, closing up the distance between the spacecraft.
In the past few days, ground controllers successfully refilled the station's leaking atmosphere from the cache of air tanks onboard the Progress spacecraft to the level of around 650 mm Mercury table.
The cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and flight engineer Alexander Kaleri, who were spending their second night in orbit, were expected to get up around 2 a.m. Moscow Time on April 6 in preparation for the rendezvous with the station.
During its 32nd and 33rd orbit around the Earth, the Soyuz was to perform final firings of its main engine, bringing the crew within a distance, where the final approach to the station with the use of small thrusters would be possible.
Traditionally, for the Russian space program, the docking with Mir was to be fully automatic. The crew would stand by in the Soyuz reentry capsule ready to take over the controls should the automatic system fail.
After the docking is complete around 10:30 Moscow Time on April 6, the crew would check the connecting mechanisms between Soyuz and Mir. If no leaks or other potential problems are discovered, the crew would enter the station around hour and half after the docking.
April 12: Mir crew celebrates Cosmonautics Day in orbit
Thirty-nine years after Yuri Gagarin's historic flight, cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri, working onboard the Mir space station, marked the Cosmonautics Day, celebrated in Russia on April 12, in the memory of the first manned orbital mission.
Traditionally for this occasion, the mission control in the town of Korolev, near Moscow saw plenty of visitors on April 12. Ground controllers conducted three TV sessions with Mir giving families of the cosmonauts, their colleagues and reporters an opportunity to talk and congratulate the crew with the professional holiday.
It was no holiday in the orbit, though. At 6:05:03 Moscow Time on April 12, the main and secondary engines of the Progress spacecraft docked to the station fired to adjust the outpost's orbit. At the time, the orbital outpost the spacecraft was near the perigee of its 326 by 344-kilometer orbit.
The maneuver added 3.1 meters per second to the speed of the station and pushed the apogee of its orbit to 356 kilometers. This was the first of two maneuvers, which intended to prolong Mir's orbital life.
The second burn to raise Mir's altitude was to take place few days later. The Progress spacecraft engines were to fire when the orbital outpost would be at the apogee to circularize the station's orbit at the altitude around 350 kilometers.
On April 12, the crew also continued the maintenance work on the station's thermal control hardware, clearing individual loops in the system off air bubbles. The air getting into the system's pumps prevented their normal operation.
On April 14, cosmonauts planned to continue checking Mir's modules for leaks. To maximize the opportunities for the crew to communicate with ground controllers, the cosmonauts shifted their resting schedule from 15:00 to 23:00 Moscow Time.
On April 28, 2000, at 1:33 Moscow Time, the Progress M1-2 cargo ship docked to the Mir space station, delivering fuel and supplies for the 28th long-term crew.
In preparation for the new cargo ship arrival, Progress M1-1, which has been parked at the station since February, undocked from Mir on April 26 at 20:33 Moscow Time and about three hours later its engines fired to de-orbit the spacecraft.
The fresh cargo ship brought total 2,271.5 kilograms of supplies and propellants to the station. The largest piece of the hardware delivered to Mir was the 150-kilogram Pelena experimental radiator. The crew would test the system's ability to remove heat in the conditions of vacuum of space.
The propellant delivered by the Progress spacecraft was pumped into the tanks onboard Mir's core module, while the cargo ships' own engines would be used in the course of the flight to adjust the outpost's altitude. In 2000, Mir's orbit was degrading faster then average due to unusually high solar activity. Occurring every 11 years, the peaks in solar activity cause the Earth's atmosphere to "bulge." As a result, low-orbital spacecraft experience more friction from the air particles and consume more propellant to maintain the altitude.
Mir crew ventures outside
After all but winning the battle with air leak onboard Mir, cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri were free to prepare for another mission highlight: a spacewalk scheduled for May 12, 2000.
Cosmonauts Sergei Zaletin and Alexander Kaleri opened the outer hatch of the Kvant-2 module at 14:40 Moscow Time.
When outside the station, the cosmonauts hoped to test an innovative technique for sealing air leaks onboard orbital modules, the work which have long-running implications for the future of space exploration.
A 1997 orbital collision between the Progress cargo ship and Mir space station, which almost took lives of two Russians and one US astronaut, spurred extensive research in Russia on different methods of searching and fixing leaks onboard piloted spacecraft.
Other tasks for a May 12 spacewalk will include the examination of Mir's surface and solar panels and deployment of an experimental thin-film solar panel. (164)
In the meantime, the ground controllers monitored carefully the pressure inside Mir. Although the atmosphere appeared stable, Russian space officials are not in a hurry to declare a victory over the air leak, which was plaguing the station since last summer.
Since a special air-generating electrolysis unit onboard the station started replenishing Mir's atmosphere, it became harder to monitor possible pressure loss inside the station. The crew reactivated the electrolysis unit soon after its arrival onboard on April 6.
The cosmonauts found and plugged a single air leak on Mir last month and mission managers hoped it would end their worries. If pressure continued to fall, the crew would have to go through a laborious task of removing numerous cables running through the hatches between the core module of Mir and Kvant-1 module. The procedure would allow isolating two oldest components of Mir and check them for leaks individually. On May 5, the crew finished a two-day test of Kvant-2 module for leaks, which appeared to be air-tight.
On a higher orbit
At the beginning of May, ground controllers and the crew also took care of another matter affecting the mission. With the arrival of the Progress cargo ship to Mir its engines and fuel were used to raise the orbit of the outpost.
After three orbital maneuvers with Progress' engines, Mir climbed to a 370 by 390-kilometer orbit, where the station could safely circle the Earth until the end of 2000.
Taking care of science
With the most housekeeping chores completed, the crew could concentrate on the scientific program of the mission. One major experiment called Pelena arrived to the station with the latest Progress cargo ship. An experiment tested a 150-kg radiator, which used oil vapor to cool space-based hardware. The crew planned to deploy the experiment at the end of May or beginning of June 2000.
When to go home?
While RKK Energia still pondered future of Mir, it was becoming clear that Zaletin and Kaleri had to wrap up their mission and return home rather then to wait for a replacement crew, if any, to arrive.
The latest plans called for the crew landing on June 12, 2000. The mission could be extended by five or six days; however, it was ultimately limited by the amount of water and food delivered on board by the latest Progress. MirCorp was yet to finance another cargo ship launch to Mir and, according to Russian space officials, additional money were not expected before June 2000.
At least one more Progress mission to Mir would be needed if RKK Energia decided to de-orbit the station at the end of 2000.
The Progress M1 cargo ship during pre-launch processing at Site-254 in Baikonur in July 2000. The spacecraft of this type was instrumental in the effort to deorbit Mir safely. Copyright © 2000 Anatoly Zak
Cosmonauts work on the exterior of the Mir space station on May 12, 2000. Credit: Roskosmos