Russia Launches Cargo Space Ship
MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia launched a Progress supply ship on Tuesday to bring fuel to boost the Mir space station, which has been slowing down and slipping from orbit, space officials said.
The station has been falling steadily since its last crew returned to Earth in June after a 73-day flight. The descent has been cause by increased solar flare activity this year, which has expanded the atmosphere and created friction between Mir and thin gasses high above the Earth.
The fuel will be used to lift the approximately 130 metric ton station to a higher orbit. Without fuel, the Mir would eventually sink into the thicker layers of the atmosphere and burn up.
The Progress M-43 blasted off at 1:27 Moscow time Tuesday from Russia’s Baikonur launch pad in Kazakstan, said a statement from RKK Energia, the company that built and operates Mir. It will rendezvous with the unmanned station in four days.
To free up the Progress parking spot on a Mir hatch, space controllers detached a used cargo ship and sent it burning up into the atmosphere on Sunday. The new Progress is also carrying oxygen and water.
The expense of Progress launches and other maintenance has led some Russian politicians to call for the station to be ditched. U.S. space officials have also urged the government to devote its scarce space funds to the new International Space Station.
MirCorp, a private company based in Amsterdam that has leased time on Mir, said it had funded the Progress launch. The firm announced last week that it intends to turn to stock markets to raise $117 million to keep the station in orbit.