Work ended for Mir when the Russian space lab took a fiery plunge into the
South Pacific on March 23, but it is just beginning for those in the Center
for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies (CORDS) at The Aerospace Corporation.

Dr. William Ailor, CORDS director, said his team is “gathering as much data
as we can” so they can accurately characterize how Mir broke up and what
parts of the space station survived reentry.

Ailor said CORDS is “fusing” data from a wide variety of sources to
develop “as clear a picture as possible” for NASA, which requested the

Similar to Gamma Work

CORDS performed the same type of work for the space agency in reconstructing
the reentry of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, which was successfully
deorbited in June 2000.

But at 17 tons, “Gamma” was a mere infant compared with Mir, which weighed
about 140 tons.

Trajectory Reconstruction

“We’re collecting data and trying to reconstruct the trajectory and see if
any pieces can actually be recovered, see what came down,” said Dr. Russ
Patera, a senior engineering specialist assigned to CORDS.

Patera said that multiple objects were observed and that the CORDS team is
investigating the breakup “to increase our understanding of how something
this large comes apart and at what altitude.”

He said what is learned can be applied to future deorbits, such as the
controlled reentry of the International Space Station at the end of its
life, perhaps 15 years hence.

Exceptional Models

Patera said the company’s Flight Mechanics Department has developed
“exceptionally accurate models and simulation tools based on data collected
over 30 to 40 years.”

What is being learned from the Mir event will add to that body of knowledge,
he said.

Bill Ailor locates on a globe the area where fragments of Mir landed. Ailor
and his team are collecting and analyzing data to learn about Mir’s reentry
and breakup. (Eric Hamburg photo)