New Zealand Warns Ships on Mir Breakup

Friday, March 16, 2001
New Zealand has issued international warnings to ships and aircraft travelling in the South Pacific area where Russia's Mir space station is due to break up next week. However, air and maritime safety officials say they don't expect shipping and air traffic to be at serious risk from debris falling into the watery "space junk graveyard". New Zealand is in charge of monitoring air and sea traffic in the splashdown area about 4,000 km (2,500 miles) east of the southern tip of New Zealand's South Island. Russian space officials have advised that 15-year-old Mir is expected to re-enter the atmosphere on Thursday, March 22, plus or minus one day, a senior Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official said. The official said the CAA would late on Friday issue a "notam," or notice to airmen, warning of a danger area in a corridor of the Auckland oceanic flight information region (FIR). The corridor is used by long-haul aircraft between Auckland and Rarotonga, Auckland and Tahiti, and Auckland and Los Angeles, the official said. The 130-ton Mir is expected to break up in an area slightly to the east of Fiji, and debris will fall to the south east of that location in a 200 km wide corridor. Most of the space station is expected to burn up on reentry but some pieces weighing as much as 700 kg (318 pounds) could still land, New Zealand civil defense officials say. "The notam will advise (pilots) that we consider a corridor through our Auckland oceanic FIR to be a danger area during the period of the Mir re-entry." the CAA official said. "We won't activate that danger area until we have more accurate information on timing." - (Reuters)

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