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With empty battery, no fuel, Indian Mars Orbiter craft quietly dies in space

The country’s first interplanetary mission ‘Mangalyaan’ may have finally completed its long innings.

India’s Mars Orbiter craft has run out of propellant and its battery has drained beyond its safe limit, fueling speculation that the country’s first interplanetary mission ‘Mangalyaan’ has finally completed its long innings. The 450 crore Mars Orbiter Mission was launched aboard PSLV-C25 on November 5, 2013, and the MOM spacecraft was successfully launched into Mars orbit on September 24, 2014.

“Right now there is no more fuel. The satellite’s battery is dead,” sources in the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) told PTI. “The link has been lost”. However, there was no official release from the country’s national space agency, which is headquartered here. With fuel on board, ISRO performed orbital maneuvers on MOM spacecraft to launch it into new orbit to avoid an impending solar eclipse in the past.

“But recently there were back-to-back eclipses, including one that lasted seven and a half hours,” officials said on condition of anonymity, noting that all of the propellant aboard the aging satellite had been consumed. “Since the satellite battery is designed to handle an eclipse of only about an hour and 40 minutes, a longer eclipse would drain the battery beyond the safe limit,” said another official. ISRO officials noted that the Mars orbiter craft has been operating for nearly eight years, well past its planned six-month lifespan.

“It has done its job and produced important scientific results,” they said. The mission’s objectives were mainly technological and included design, realization and launch of a Mars Orbiter spacecraft capable of operating with sufficient autonomy during the travel phase; Mars orbit insertion/capture and in-orbit phase around Mars. The MOM – a technology demonstrator – carried five scientific payloads (total 15 kg) that collected data on surface geology, morphology, atmospheric processes, surface temperature and atmospheric escape process.

The five instruments are: Mars Color Camera (MCC), Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA), and Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP).

“MOM is credited with many laurels such as cost effectiveness, short realization period, economic mass budget and miniaturization of five heterogeneous scientific payloads,” ISRO officials pointed out. MOM’s highly elliptical orbital geometry allowed MCC to capture “Full Disc” snapshots of Mars at the farthest point and finer detail from the nearest point. The MCC has produced over 1000 images and published a Mars Atlas.

In the meantime, however, plans for a follow-up mission ‘Mangalyaan’ to the red planet have yet to be confirmed. ISRO released an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for future Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM-2) in 2016, but officials acknowledged it is still on the drawing board, with the upcoming ‘Gaganyaan’, ‘Chandrayaan-3’ and ‘Aditya – L1’ projects are on the space agency’s current priority list.

The AO had said: “It is now planned to hold the next orbiter mission around Mars for a future launch opportunity. Proposals are solicited from interested scientists in India for experiments aboard an orbiter mission around Mars (MOM-2), to provide relevant scientific problems and topics.”

“Not currently on the approved list,” a senior ISRO official told PTI when asked for an update on the MOM-2. “We need to formulate the project proposals and payloads based on wider consultation with the research community,” the official said.

“It’s still on the drawing board. But needs a little more detail and international cooperation to complete the mission.”

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