Mir space-junk worries South Pacific islands

Published Mar 9, 2001


Suva - The 16 island states of the South Pacific Forum are seeking assurances from Russia that debris from Mir will not crash on one of their palm-fringed nations when the ageing space station plummets to Earth later this month.

Russia expects Mir to splash down about 3 000km east of New Zealand in open ocean, with an estimated 1 500 fragments raining down on Earth, some at speeds capable of smashing through reinforced concrete.

Most island homes in the South Pacific are made of timber, with a thatched roof.

Iosefa Maiava, acting secretary-general of the South Pacific Forum, said on Friday: "The planned final stages of the descent of the Russian space station to a zone in the South Pacific is raising serious concerns due to uncertainties about when and where it will crash.

"We want to be fully informed about the timetable and pathway of descent and we're seeking assurances that this activity poses minimal threats to Pacific Island countries."

Mir is expected to splash down between March 10 and 15.

Australia's disaster response organisation, Emergency Management Australia, says chunks of Mir the size of a small car could reach Earth, but expects the space station to plunge into the empty South Pacific known as a "space-junk graveyard".

Two-thirds of the ageing and accident-prone 130-ton space station should burn up in the controlled descent through the Earth's atmosphere, travelling as fast as one kilometre a second.

While Russia insists Mir will not fall on any populated areas, it has nevertheless taken out US$200-million (about R1,54-billion) insurance just in case, said a Russian insurance industry official on Wednesday.

The South Pacific Forum consists of 16 island states, including Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, the Cook Islands and Western Samoa.

They are scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean, although all but two million of the combined 29 million of the Pacific Forum are in Australia, New Zealand and PNG. - Reuters

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