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Mission Control
Mission Control
TsPUK Mission Control Kaliningrad

Credit: © Mark Wade. 47,650 bytes. 579 x 388 pixels.

Program: Mir. Objective: Manned. Type: Space station.

The Mir space station was the last remnant of the once mighty Soviet space programme. It was built to last only five years, and was to have been composed of modules launched by Proton and Buran/Energia launch vehicles. These modules were derived from those originally designed by Chelomei in the 1960's for the Almaz military station programme. As the Soviet Union collapsed Mir stayed in orbit, but the final modules were years late and could only be completed with American financial assistance. Kept flying over a decade beyond its rated life, Mir proved a source of pride to the Russian people and proved the ability of their cosmonauts and engineers to improvise and keep operations going despite all manner of challenges and mishaps.

The design of an improved model of the Salyut DOS-17K space station was authorised as part of the third generation of Soviet space systems in a 17 February 1976 decree. At that time it was planned that the two stations (DOS-7 and DOS-8) would be equipped with two docking ports at either end of the station and an additional two ports at the sides of the forward small diameter compartment. By the time of the draft project in August 1978 this had evolved to the final Mir configuration of one aft port and five ports in a spherical compartment at the forward end of the station. Up to that time it was planned that the ports would provide docking positions for 7 tonne modules derived from the Soyuz spacecraft. These would use the Soyuz propulsion module, as in Soyuz and Progress, but would be equipped with long laboratory modules in place of the descent module and orbital module.

Following the decision to cancel Chelomei's manned Almaz military space station programme, a resolution of February 1979 consolidated the programs, with the docking ports to be reinforced to accommodate 20 tonne space station modules based on Chelomei's TKS manned ferry spacecraft. This order was unpopular with NPO Energia engineers, who felt that often-replaced lower-cost 7 tonne modules were a better technical solution. Nevertheless NPO Energia was made responsible for the overall space station, but subcontracted the work to KB Salyut due to the press of in-house work on Energia, Salyut 7, Soyuz-T, and Progress. The subcontractor began work in the summer of 1979, with drawings being released in 1982-1983. New systems incorporated into the station included the Salyut 5B digital flight control computer and gyrodyne flywheels (taken from Almaz), and the new Kurs automatic rendezvous system, Altair satellite communications system, Elektron oxygen generators, and Vozdukh carbon dioxide scrubbers.

MirMir - View of Mir in space.

Credit: NASA. 42,663 bytes. 640 x 320 pixels.

By early 1984 all work on Mir ground to a halt as all resources were put on getting the Buran space shuttle into flight test. This changed in the spring 1984 when Glushko was called into the office of the Central Committee's Secretary for Space and Defence and ordered to orbit Mir by the 27th Communist Party Congress in the spring of 1986. By the end of 1984 the static and dynamic test models of the station had been completed. The ground test model of the station was delivered in December 1984. The use of this full-fidelity test article, an approach taken on the Almaz program, was new to the civilian DOS project.

A major problem was that the station ended up one tonne heavier than designed due to the final weight of the electrical cabling Even after removing most of the experimental equipment (it would have to be delivered to the station later by ferry craft) it still exceeded the performance of the Proton booster to the planned 65 degree inclination orbit. The decision was finally taken in January 1985 to use the same 51.6 degree orbit as Salyut, although this would reduce photographic coverage of the Soviet Union. Meanwhile problems with development of the new software for the Salyut 5B computer lead to the decision to launch Mir with the old analogue Argon computer from Salyut DOS-17K. The digital computer would have to be installed later in orbit.

By April 1985 it was clear that the planned processing flow could not be followed and still make the spring 1986 launch date. The decision was taken on Cosmonautics Day (April 12) to ship the flight model to Baikonur and conduct the systems testing and integration there. Mir arrived at the launch site on 6 May 1985. 1100 of 2500 cables required rework based on results of testing of the ground test model at Khrunichev. In October 1985 Mir was rolled outside of its clean room to conduct communications tests of the Altair system with the Cosmos 1700 satellite already in orbit.

The first launch attempt on 16 February 1986 at very low temperatures was scrubbed when the spacecraft communications failed. The second attempt on 20 February was successful. The political deadline had been met.

Mir CutawayMir Cutaway

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The early launch of Mir left the planners without Soyuz spacecraft or modules to launch to it. The decision was taken to launch Soyuz T-15 on a unique dual station mission. The Soyuz would first dock with Salyut 7, which was dead in space, and completely repair the station. They then would fly in their Soyuz to Mir, and put it into initial operation. This spectacular mission marked a new maturity in the Soviet space program.

Just as Mir assembly began in earnest, the Soviet Union disintegrated. The military Spektr module was cancelled and no funds were available for completion of the Priroda earth resources module. Vice President Al Gore and Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin signed an agreement for a two-phase International Space Station program at the US-Russian summit in Washington in September 1993. Phase One (1994-96) would involve Shuttle missions to Russia's current Mir station. NASA would pay Russia $100 million annually to keep a 'guest astronaut' on the Mir complex. The money also made it possible for Russia to launch the 'Spektr' and 'Priroda' expansion modules to Mir, with some US experiments onboard. The program was later extended by two more flights in 1998 to help pay for Russia's ISS contributions. In the end, NASA paid the Russians $472 million for nine Shuttle dockings.

Following the end of the US flights, Mir barely continued in operation into the next century. When it became impossible to keep it going by selling visits to foreign customers, it was decided to bring it down in the Pacific Ocean using a specially modified Progress tug. By then it had been in orbit for 15 years. It had been continuously added to, survived crashes with errant spacecraft and space debris, and provided astronauts from many nations with experience in extended space flight. Major Events: .

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Last update 12 March 2001.
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