India has lost contact with its Mars orbiter

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India has lost contact with its Mars orbiter

After 8 years in orbit around the planet Marchthe spacecraft India’s MOM or Mars Orbiter Mission could have come to the end of its course. Indeed, the ground stations operated by ISRO or Indian Space Research Organization just lost contact with the device.

For the moment, the precise cause of this loss of contact has not yet been confirmed. It is possible that the aircraft has burned all its fuel, or that its battery has gone flat, or that an automated maneuver has cut communications.

MOM orbiter
Credits NASA/ISRO/Robert Lea

The MOM, also known as the Mangalyaanhas largely exceeded its expected lifespan by six to ten months. It was launched in November 2013 and arrived in Mars orbit in September 2014.

The most likely causes

According to the explanations, the MOM orbiter is equipped with three solar panels mounted on one of its sides. The whole system can produce 800 Watts of power, which can charge a lithium-ion battery. Recently, the craft was caught in a series of eclipses which may have had an effect on its ability to recharge.

An ISRO official said that recently there have been several eclipses in succession. One of these eclipses lasted 7.5 hours. But the battery of the orbiter was designed to survive an eclipse that lasts a maximum of 1 hour and 40 minutess. A longer eclipse could thus drain the battery beyond the supported limit.

Apart from having its battery drained, it is also possible that the device has used all its fuel. On departure, the satellite had on board a total of 852 kg of fuel to supply its main thruster and 8 small thrusters used for attitude control. Last April, MOM woke up after a long eclipse. It’s possible that the craft consumed the remaining fuel to recover.

There is also another hypothesis regarding the loss of contact with the MOM orbiter. It is possible that after an eclipse, the satellite’s automated system made it perform a maneuver to change direction. It could have deflect the main antenna which is normally pointed at Earth.

The end according to ISRO

Previously, the Indian orbiter has already been able to come out of blackouts similar to what is happening now. During its first two years around Mars, it has was able to recover automatically without any help from Earth. Today, early indications suggest that this latest blackout may well be permanentand the device will not be able to recover from any cause.

According to an ISRO scientist, they are now investigating the exact reason for this loss of contact, whether it is fuel exhaustion or inability to communicate. Let’s wait to see if the ISRO engineers will finally be able to isolate the cause of what can be described as the end of the MOM orbiter.


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