A Russian-built tanker has docked with the Mir space station, carrying a specially designed "mirror" for use in a navigation experiment. The Progress M40 docked with the Mir on 26 October, two days after its launch from Baikonur in Kazakhstan.

The tanker delivered a cargo which included a unique aluminium membrane to be deployed automatically from the station early next year, unfurling into a 25m-diameter mirror.

The mirror, to be used as part of a navigation experiment, will enable the station to reflect the sun's light and it will be bright enough to be seen by observers on the ground.

The Progress also carried twice the usual amount of propellants, for the first engine burn to reduce the altitude of the Mir's orbit, in preparation for its controversial planned de-orbit in June 1999.

Russia has also reported that the launch of the final Mir crew, due in February 1999, may have to be delayed because of cash shortages, which have pushed back production of the Soyuz TM spacecraft to be used for the mission.

Source: Flight International