India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) may have finally reached the end of its operations after eight years in orbit around the red planet.
Ground stations operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost communication with the spaceship. The exact cause is not yet clear; According to media reports, the orbiter may have run out of fuel, MOM’s battery may have discharged beyond safe operating limits, or an automated maneuver may have disrupted communications.
operated on Mars For eight years, MOM – also called Mangalyaan – has far exceeded its expected mission duration of only six to ten months. The vehicle was launched in November 2013 and entered orbit around Mars in September 2014.
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Although ISRO has not yet released an official statement, an agency source told the local newspaper The Hindu that “the satellite’s battery died” and “the connection was lost” with MOM.
MOM carries a 4.6 x 6 foot (1.4 x 1.8 meter) solar cell wing consisting of three panels mounted on one side of the spacecraft. The array can generate 800 watts of power on Mars and charge a lithium-ion battery, but the spacecraft has recently encountered a series of solar eclipses that may have impacted its ability to charge.
“Recently there have been consecutive solar eclipses, including one that lasted seven and a half hours,” said an unnamed ISRO source The Hindu.
“Since the satellite battery is rated for an eclipse duration of only about an hour and 40 minutes, a longer eclipse would drain the battery beyond the safe limit,” another unnamed official told the newspaper.
MOM had emerged from a long eclipse in April, but by the time it recovered, the spacecraft may have used up its remaining fuel. At launch, MOM carried approximately 1,880 pounds (852 kilograms) of fuel to power its main engine and eight smaller engines for altitude control.
There’s also a possibility that the communications breakdown is a result of MOM’s automated system pulling it out of another eclipse, according to comments from an unnamed official in the Indian times. The system may have caused the orbiter to roll to change direction, causing MOM’s Earth-pointing antenna to point away from our planet and the spacecraft going silent.
MOM had previously survived power outages during its first and second years on Mars and recovered completely autonomously from the ground without assistance. However, early indications are that this new power outage is permanent, and multiple sources told the Times of India that whatever the cause, the spacecraft will not be able to recover.
“Now we’re trying to figure out the exact reason — whether it’s fuel depletion or the antenna’s inability to communicate,” an unnamed senior scientist told the Times of India. “But one thing is for sure, we won’t be able to recover the spaceship.”
MOM was India’s first interplanetary mission, making ISRO only the fourth space agency to achieve orbit around the Red Planet. The spacecraft arrived on Mars just in time to catch the passage Comet siding spring on October 19, 2014.
The main goal of the mission was to test the technology required for interplanetary exploration and to use its instruments to study both the Martian surface and the atmosphere from orbit.
Onboard instruments included a color camera, a thermal infrared sensor, a UV spectrometer to study deuterium and hydrogen in the upper Martian atmosphere, and a mass spectrometer to study neutral particles in the outermost layers of Mars Martian atmosphere.
MOM also carried a sensor designed to search for methane, a molecule that, if present, could indicate life once existed on the red planet. ISRO has not yet announced the results of this instrument.
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