Emergency Management Australia (EMA)

Dickson, Australian Capital Territory


Brian Flanagan

EMA Media Liaison

Mobile: 0409 489 344

Jane Cusack

Tel: 0419 444 626

EMA Media Release: 5 March 2001

EMA’s Director General, David Templeman, today (Monday, 5 March) delivered
a media briefing on EMA’s role in relation to the re-entry of the Russian
Mir Space Station. In attendance at Northbourne House were members of the
Parliamentary Press Gallery, overseas media, and local Canberra media
representatives. The briefing documents have also been provided to media
representatives (mainly radio) in New South Wales, Victoria, South
Australia and Queensland.


Mr David Templeman, Director General Emergency Management Australia (EMA)

Good morning. Thank you for coming to our media briefing on the re-entry
of the Russian Mir space station. EMA is the Federal agency responsible
for coordinating Commonwealth assistance when requests for assistance in
dealing with disasters are received from States or Territories. Approval
of such requests rests with The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson MP, who is the
Parliamentary Secretary for Defence with responsibility for national
emergency management matters. In relation to Mir, EMA has the lead role
of coordinating national arrangements to ensure the preservation of
public safety in the remote possibility of debris falling onto Australia.
It is important to understand from the outset that the management of
Mir’s re-entry is the responsibility of the Russian Government.

My briefing today will cover:

* Background information on Mir

* The re-entry process

* The performance of Mir during re-entry

* EMA’s role as it relates to the re-entry

* Australian contingency planning; and

* An outline of management strategies EMA has put in place.

Let me start with some context.

  • There are currently about
    9000 human-made objects orbiting Earth.
  • About a third of these
    are satellites : the remainder comprise debris,
    with pieces ranging in size from a tennis ball to
    spent rocket bodies and parts of spacecraft : so
    we are dealing with things ranging from 2 cm up to 2
    metres in length.
  • Roughly, up to two of
    these objects decay each day with only one hundredth
    of the mass surviving re-entry.
  • Mir was launched in
    February 1986 with the last module added in 1995.
  • Mir comprises six modules
    including an array of antennae and solar panels.
  • Mir weighs around 135
  • The current structure is
    about 33 metres long and 30 metres wide.

Let me address the de-orbit and
re-entry process.

  • Mir completes one orbit
    of the Earth about every 92 minutes.
  • During its operational
    life Mir generally orbited at an altitude of between
    350 and 400 kilometres.
  • Mir orbits between the
    latitudes of 51.60 North and 51.60 South.
  • The first phase of the
    de-orbit was the successful docking of a Progress
    cargo ship on 27 January this year.
  • The docking ship,
    carrying 2700 tonnes of fuel, will provide the
    braking influences necessary to slow Mir and
    facilitate a controlled re-entry.
  • Mir is currently in
    free-orbit utilising its solar panels as a source of
    power so as to conserve fuel.
  • As of this morning, Mir
    is at an altitude of 260.6 kilometres.
  • Mir is currently losing
    altitude at a rate of, on average, 1400 metres per
    day. This rate varies according to such factors as
    increasing molecular drag, solar wind variation and
    station instability.
  • Once Mir drops to an
    altitude of 250 kilometres, braking impulses will be
    applied to enable the re-entry orbit path to be
  • Mir is expected to reach
    250 kilometres by 9 March plus or minus 2 to 3
    days.  We expect this to occur between 7 and 12
  • Braking manoeuvres are
    planned to occur over a 72-hour period to slow Mir
    even further and lower its altitude.
  • These manoeuvres may not
    commence immediately Mir reaches 250 km, but rather
    when the Russian authorities believe that conditions
    are right to proceed with the de-orbit.
  • During the first 24
    hours, the docking ship will apply two braking
  • During the second 24
    hours, the docking ship will apply a third braking
  • During the final 24
    hours, the docking ship will apply the final braking
    impulse, which will direct Mir to travel to a
    splashdown area in the Pacific : 1400 West, 470
    South : midway between New Zealand and Chile
    : that is about 4000 km east of New
    Zealand’s South Island and 5400 km from
  • This map taken from the
    Russian Mission Control Website shows a possible
    final path to the splashdown area.
  • The Russian Space Agency
    has previously used this area, known as the
    ‘Graveyard’, for successfully returning spacecraft.
  • Splashdown should occur
    between 10 and 15 March.
  • A key element of the Mir
    re-entry strategy is the retention of a high degree
    of control until virtually the last moment. 
    This approach is designed to minimise the area of
    impact and avoid possible damage.
  • Most of this information
    was provided by Mr Yuri Koptev, Head of the Russian
    Aviation and Space Agency, at a recent media
    conference. Mr Koptev is ultimately responsible for
    managing the de-orbit of Mir.  The transcript of
    his media briefing is included in your briefing

Let me address Mir’s possible
performance on re-entry.

  • Due to the variable
    nature of the atmosphere and the shape of Mir, its
    performance is unpredictable.
  • As Mir enters the upper
    atmosphere at an altitude of about 150 kilometres,
    its trajectory will become increasingly subject to
    aerodynamic variables.
  • Most of Mir is expected
    to burn up on re-entry.
  • Some large parts, up to
    about 700 kilograms (the size of a small car) may
    survive. These are expected to splashdown in the
    isolated part of the Southern Pacific Ocean which I
    described earlier.
  • The international space
    community is confident in the Russian Government’s
    ability to safely de-orbit Mir.
  • Nevertheless, due to some
    unpredictability of how Mir may react when it enters
    the earth’s atmosphere, it is prudent that
    appropriate contingency plans are prepared to address
    possible  problems.

Let me address our contingency

  • The focus of Contingency
    Planning is on Australia’s preparedness to deal
    with the event.
  • The key to our activities
    is Information Management which falls into two
    categories : Information Gathering and
    Processing and Information Dissemination.
  • In mid-January 2001, EMA
    identified and engaged the stakeholders from the
    Commonwealth and States and Territories and provided
    an initial briefing based on information available at
    that time.
  • Subsequently, there has
    been regular dialogue between all the players to
    ensure that information is being shared to enable
    planning to proceed.

Information has and is still being
gathered from a number of sources, including:

  • Through the Australian
    Embassy in Moscow from the Russian Ministry of
    Foreign Affairs and the Russian Aviation and Space
  • Through other
    Commonwealth government agencies with international
    links such as Defence
  • Through the international
  • The Russian Embassy in
    Canberra; and
  • We have requested
    agreement from the Russian authorities to have an
    Australian liaison officer in the Mir Mission Control
    Centre so that real time re-entry information can be
    relayed to Australia.
  • Information is being
    disseminated to stakeholders as follows:
  • To State and Territory
    emergency management authorities
  • Through the Australian
    Maritime Safety Authority and Air Services Australia
    to ensure that pilots and mariners are warned
  • To other Commonwealth
    agencies such as Defence
  • To our Pacific neighbours
    : and this is being effected through the
    Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Today we have added another player
by briefing you, the media, and we hope that you will now assist
us by providing factual information to the public.

For your information, warning
notes have already been issued to the maritime and aviation
sectors, and police and emergency services in the States and

Contingency Planning at the
Commonwealth level has included EMA developing national-level
contingency arrangements and forming a Mir National Warning

This group has representation from
key Commonwealth government agencies and State authorities and
has been established to facilitate the rapid and coordinated
passage of information from EMA to all stakeholders.

In the event of a request for
assistance from a State due to damage caused by debris, EMA would
activate the Commonwealth Government Disaster Response Plan,
which outlines arrangements for the provision of assistance to
States and Territories during disasters.

States and Territories also have
well established arrangements for dealing with disasters. These
include legislation, plans and emergency response agencies such
as police, fire, ambulance, and the State Emergency Service.

States and Territories have also
prepared supplementary contingency plans to deal with the
re-entry of Mir.

In conclusion…

  • The re-entry track of Mir
    takes it well to the east of Australia, and it is
    highly unlikely that Australia will be affected.
  • EMA continues to plan for
    the re-entry and will ensure that the public, through
    the media, is kept informed of the situation as the
    countdown continues.
  • It is prudent to ensure
    that we are well prepared in the unlikely event that
    something goes wrong.
  • And from today, EMA will
    update out current media position paper on a daily
    basis. This information will be posted on our website
    at www.ema.gov.au and is also available from
    Brian Flanagan on 0409 489 344.


Comment – If you refer to Fact
Sheet 5, we have listed a number of web sites that may help you
obtain more information on the re-entry of Mir.


Thank you ladies and gentlemen, we
will keep you informed.

Potential Questions

Q : Why has it
taken so long to deliver a press briefing?

A : EMA has been working
on this issue since November last year.  This has
involved consultation with State and Federal agencies and the
Russian authorities.  We have developed a number of
updates on Mir.  This information has been provided when
media representatives have posed questions.  We wanted
to ensure we had the most reliable information possible
before calling this media briefing today.

Q : What will
happen if the plan to de-orbit Mir fails?

A : Firstly, if Mir’s
orbit is allowed to decay naturally, it is anticipated that
Mir would re-enter the earth’s atmosphere around 28 March
plus 5 days/minus 4 days.  In such a case re-entry would
be uncontrolled and could occur anywhere in the world between
51.60 N and 51.60S.  Nevertheless, two cosmonauts remain
on standby to fly to Mir in the event that something goes
awry and manual intervention is required.  There is
adequate time for this occur if the initial braking
manoeuvres are not successful.

Q – Do you have any
idea of the number of fragments of Mir that are expected to
survive re-entry?

A – Mr Koptev has indicated
that it could be about 1500 fragments.

Q – What is the total
mass of debris that is expected to survive re-entry?

A – I understand that it could
be in the order of 20 to 25 tonnes with the largest fragments
being in the order of 700 kg.

Q – What is the
probability of a fragment hitting a city?

A – The Russians estimate this
as being as low as .02%. These figures were reflected at a
recent press briefing delivered by Mr Yuri Koptev and can be
found in your media packages.

Q : What sort of
damage could be expected if parts of Mir did impact

A : The damage that would
result from an impact of Mir debris is dependant, firstly,
upon where the debris impacts and, secondly, the size of the

Q : How fast will
Mir be travelling when it impacts?

A : About one kilometre
per second.

Q : There have
been instances where satellites have re-entered in the past,
placing people and property at risk, for example, Kosmos 954,
Skylab and Mars 96. Why couldn’t the same thing happen
with Mir?

A : In each of these
instances, the re-entry was uncontrolled and the consequence
of an unstable orbit.  There were also other factors.

  • Mars 96 failed soon after
    launch and never attained stable orbit.
  • Kosmos (1978) and Skylab
    (1979) occurred some time ago when technology was not
    as advanced as it is today.
  • They also occurred during
    the cold war era where information sharing was not
    particularly good between the US and the then USSR.
  • Fortunately, this is no
    longer the case and there has been a good exchange of
    information with Russia on Mir to date.
  • The Mir de-orbit process
    is unique in the sense that it is an active de-orbit
    which the Russians intend to control right up to the
    last moment.

Q – What kind of fuel
does Mir/Progress use?

A – Mir uses a ‘Hypergolic’
propellant, comprising two parts.  The first is
Unsymmetrical Dimethyl Hydrazine (UDMH) and the second is
Dinitrogen Tetroxide (N2O4).

Q – Is it likely the
fuel will survive re-entry, and if so what will be its

A. – Mir and Progress are only
carrying enough fuel for the re-entry manoeuvres.  Fuel
not used is expected to ‘cook-off’ during
re-entry.  If fuel did survive re-entry, treatment is
well within the capabilities of Australia’s HAZMAT response

Q – Is Mir carrying
any other hazardous material.

A. – Russian Authorities have
given assurances that Mir is not carrying any hazardous

Q – Will the Progress
rocket be uncoupled before re-entry.

A – No

Q – How will States
and the Commonwealth deal with damage caused by Mir?

A – In the first instance,
States will respond using their normal response
arrangements.  If States do not have the resources
required, they may request assistance from the Commonwealth.

Q – How will Australia
respond if debris impacts on a Pacific island Nation and
Australia is asked for assistance.

A – We will use the same
procedures as used for requests for assistance in dealing
with natural disasters.  The request will come through
diplomatic channels and, as a good neighbour, Australia will
provide an appropriate response.

Q – What is being done
to warn the public about what they should or should not do if
they are impacted by debris or see debris lying around.

A – We have prepared a message
for actions which should be taken and which will be released
by States and Territories.  The basic rule is not to
touch anything and report it to the Police.  You may
have noticed that some Police authorities have already taken
steps to issue appropriate advice.

Q : What will EMA
do from a media perspective if sections of Mir land in

A : Immediately activate
the EMA Media Centre.

Q : Who will
brief the media in the event of debris landing in Australia?

A : This would involve a
number of key people and would depend on the level of
importance and the location.

Q – If debris lands in
Australia, what are the responsibilities of the Russian
Government in regard to compensation of damage or loss of

A : These arrangements
covered by international agreements. I will ask Mr Peter
Morris from the Department of Industry Science and Resources
to address your question.

Q : What about
our near neighbours?  Have any of the smaller island
nations been advised of Mir’s re-entry?

A : Yes, through DFAT
: I will ask Ms Adela Nair to address what DFAT has done
in this regard.

Q – Has the plight of
Mir engendered much interest from other countries?

A – More than 80 countries
have expressed an interest in the re-entry of Mir.

Q : Why
can’t the Russians scuttle Mir in outer space?

A : We have been advised
that this would not be feasible.  You might like to
refer to Mr Koptev’s comments on the feasibility of such
an approach.

Q : Why
can’t they dismantle Mir and return it to Earth in

A : Again, this is not
feasible according to the Russian Space Agency.  Refer
to Mr Koptev’s comments.

Q : There seems
to be an increasing number of objects falling from orbit
lately. Is this statement representative of the facts and, if
so, is the trend likely to continue.

A : Space debris always
has and always will continue to re-enter the Earth’s
atmosphere.  As mentioned earlier, up to two of these
objects decay each day with only one hundredth of the mass
surviving re-entry.

Q : Will we be
able to see the re-entry?

A : It is very unlikely.

Q – We have read where
some tourist operators are planning to charter aircraft to
fly parallel to Mir’s final path.  Do you have any
thoughts on this?

A – Due to the danger
involved, the Russian authorities have asked that foreign
governments discourage tourist operators from considering
such activities.  The Australian Government supports
this position.

Q : Will an
all-clear statement be issued when the re-entry is complete.

A : Yes. As soon as we
are advised, a statement will go out to all media outlets as
well as State/Federal agencies.