After eight years in orbit around the Red Planet, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) may have finally reached the end of its operational life.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) ground stations no longer have contact with the spacecraft. According to media accounts, the exact cause is still unknown. The orbiter may have ran out of propellant, MOM’s battery may have discharged above the safe working limit, or an autonomous manoeuvre may have disrupted communications.
The spacecraft was deemed to be irrecoverable and to have reached the end of its useful life, according to a statement from ISRO authorities (opens in new tab). In the annals of planetary exploration, the mission will always be remembered as a tremendous technological and scientific achievement.
MOM, also known as Mangalyaan, functioned on Mars for eight years, significantly exceeding its planned mission length of approximately six to 10 months. Launched in November 2013, the spacecraft orbited Mars in September 2014. When the team lost touch with the spacecraft is not stated in the ISRO announcement.
According to a source with ISRO, “the satellite battery” has run out and “the link has been lost” with MOM, according to the local publication The Hindu.
The solar array wing on one side of MOM measures 4.6 by 6 feet (1.4 by 1.8 metres) and is made up of three panels. The array on Mars is capable of producing 800 watts of power and can replenish a lithium-ion battery, but the spacecraft recently experienced a number of eclipses that may have hindered its capacity to do so.
An alleged ISRO official told The Hindu, “Recently there were back-to-back eclipses, including one that lasted seven and a half hours.
A longer eclipse will drain the battery beyond the safe limit because the satellite battery is only made to handle eclipses that last for roughly one hour and forty minutes, another anonymous source told the newspaper.
In April, MOM emerged from a protracted eclipse, but as it recovered, the spacecraft may have used up all of its fuel. Around 1,880 pounds (852 kilogrammes) of fuel were carried by MOM at launch to operate its primary propulsion and eight auxiliary thrusters for altitude control.
An unidentified official told the Times of India that there’s also a likelihood that the communications breakdown was caused by MOM’s automated mechanism pulling it out of another eclipse. It’s possible that the system ordered the orbiter to roll-spin in order to alter course, which caused MOM’s Earth-facing antenna to point away from our planet and the spacecraft to go silent.
During its first and second years orbiting Mars, MOM had already endured blackouts and recovered entirely on its own, without help from the Earth. However, preliminary findings imply that this latest blackout is permanent, and numerous insiders told the Times of India that regardless of the cause, the spacecraft won’t be able to recover.
An unnamed top scientist informed the Times of India, “We are now attempting to determine the actual reason – whether it is the exhaustion of fuel or antenna being unable to communicate.” But we won’t be able to rescue the spaceship any longer, that much is certain.
India’s first interplanetary mission, MOM, made the ISRO the fourth space agency to successfully orbit Mars. On October 19, 2014, the spacecraft reached Mars just in time to see the passage of Comet Siding Spring.
The mission’s main objective was to use its equipment to examine the Martian surface and atmosphere from orbit while also testing the technologies required for interplanetary exploration.
A thermal infrared sensor, a colour camera, an ultraviolet spectrometer for studying deuterium and hydrogen in Mars’ upper atmosphere, and a mass spectrometer for examining neutral particles in the outermost layers of the Martian atmosphere were among the instruments on board.
Additionally, MOM carried a sensor that was intended to look for methane, a chemical that, if found, could indicate that there once was life on the Red Planet. The results of that instrument have not yet been released by ISRO.
Editor’s note: ISRO’s remarks have been added to this item. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @Spacedotcom.
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