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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russian Space Agency to Insure Disposal of Mir

Russia's Mir space station will most likely be brought down into the Pacific Ocean around March 18-20, and the Russian Aerospace Agency will insure it against any damage the crash could cause, officials said Tuesday.

After repeated delays, the agency promised to guide the ailing 15-year-old station down later this month, but has not named an exact date.

Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said Tuesday that space officials are now waiting for the station to naturally drift down to an orbit about 250 kilometers from Earth instead of using up precious fuel to speed up the descent.

"We don't want to spend extra fuel to lower its orbit," Gorbunov said during an Internet news conference. He said space officials want to save as much fuel as possible to make sure that they can properly control Mir's de-orbit.

After Mir reaches the 250-kilometer orbit by the end of this week, space officials will take a series of steps to prepare for the moment when a Progress cargo ship docked with the station will fire its engines and send the 130-metric ton station hurtling down to a remote stretch of the South Pacific.

The earliest date of Mir's dumping is Mar. 13, but the "most likely dates are between Mar. 18 and Mar. 20" or possibly later, Gorbunov said.

The station is currently circling about 257 kilometers above the Earth, and the speed of its descent depends on solar activity that expands the atmosphere and creates friction between Mir and thin gasses high above the Earth.

The long history of Mir's glitches, including a fire, a near-disastrous collision with a cargo ship and a long string of computer breakdowns and power outages, has fed fears that it could spin out of control and rain its debris on populated areas.

Japan has been especially concerned, because Mir is expected to pass over its territory on its final, low orbit. "We have grown tired of repeating that there was no danger for Japan," Gorbunov said.

One of Mir's designers, Leonid Gorshkov, also sought Tuesday to play down public fears. "Debris from dozens of booster rockets and hundreds of meteorites annually reach Earth and nothing terrible happens," Gorshkov said at a separate news conference.

Most of Mir will burn up when it enters the atmosphere, but some 1,500 fragments with a total weight of up to 25 metric tons are expected to survive the fiery re-entry and fall over an ocean area between Australia and Chile.

Despite all the official optimism, Gorbunov said that the space agency is negotiating with three Russian insurance companies to insure against possible damage connected with Mir's descent. An agreement to be signed shortly would envisage an insurance premium of $200 million.

"The insurance is just another attempt to assuage fears," Gorbunov said.