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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mir Crew Put on Alert for Meteoroids




Russian cosmonauts have been ordered to stay inside the Mir space station's escape capsule for one bumpy hour on Nov. 17 when the battered craft is due to be hit by a space dust storm.


The storm of tiny particles or meteoroids is likely to do "some" damage to Mir before burning up in the Earth's atmosphere, said Dmitry Blagov, deputy chief of the flight control center.


Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev, the two cosmonauts currently manning Mir, will be ordered to board the cramped Soyuz escape craft before 10 p.m. Moscow time just in case the damage is major.


The Leonids meteoroid storm is expected to be the most severe in 33 years.


As the storm passes Mir, between two and four meteor particles with a diameter of up to 0.1 millimeters will hit each square meter of those parts of the station facing the shower during the critical hour after 10 p.m., according to calculations made by the Rocket Space Corporation Energia.


Each particle will be traveling at a speed of between 3,600 and 36,000 kilometers per hour, according to Energia spokesman Sergei Gromov.


Both Gromov and Blagov said they do not expect any meteoroids to puncture the hull of the station. They said that would take a hit by a meteoroid with a diameter of more than 10 millimeters traveling at a speed of more than 10 kilometers per second.


To prepare for Leonids, Padalka and Avdeyev will carry out a spacewalk on Nov. 11 to install a meteor-research equipment set, made in France and dubbed Comet, outside Mir, Blagov said. The equipment will catch some of the meteoroids that are expected to hit Mir during the storm.


Based on the past 30 years of Russia's space program, both Blagov and Gromov said that meteoroids were not a major threat to Mir. Much more likely than a life-threatening hole in the space station's hull is minor damage to Mir's solar panels.


This has occurred frequently in past storms. A hole 10 centimeters in diameter was found in one of the panels back in 1991, Blagov said.


But Gromov said he expected 90 percent of the panels to remain functioning after the storm.


The meteoroids are just the latest in Mir's long tale of mishaps and misadventures.


Last year the space station survived a fire and a collision with a docking vehicle which punctured its hull. The crew spent months waiting for rescue teams to reach them and repairs to be completed.


Russia is due to decommission Mir next summer, allowing it to fall to earth.


Russian-made civil satellites have no anti-meteor coating and so are most prone to the Leonids meteoroid storm.


Russia's Strategic Rocket Forces has its military satellites shielded. "We have everything properly protected," said spokesman Mikhail Dyuryagin.


Most of Russia's military satellites are built to withstand nuclear blast, making them less vulnerable to meteoroids.


Russia has some 160 civil and military satellites currently orbiting the Earth, according to the Russian Space Agency.