India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) may have finally reached the end of its operations after eight years in orbit around the Red Planet.
The ground stations operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) have lost communication with the spacecraft. The precise cause is not yet clear; the orbiter may have run out of propellant, MOM’s battery may be depleted beyond the safe operating limit, or an automated maneuver may have cut communications, according to media reports.
Having operated at March for eight years, MOM – also called Mangalyaan – far exceeded its expected lifespan of only six to 10 months. The craft was launched in November 2013 and entered orbit around Mars in September 2014.
Related: India’s first mission to Mars in pictures (gallery)
Although ISRO has yet to issue an official statement, a source from the agency told the local newspaper The Hindu that “the satellite battery” has discharged and that “the link has been lost” with MOM.
MOM carries a 4.6 x 6 foot (1.4 x 1.8 meter) solar generator wing made up 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 recently encountered a series of eclipses that could have affected its ability to recharge.
“Recently there have been back-to-back eclipses, including one that lasted seven and a half hours,” an unnamed ISRO source said. The Hindu.
“As the satellite’s battery is designed to handle an eclipse duration of only around one 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 during its recovery the spacecraft may have exhausted its remaining fuel. At launch, MOM carried approximately 1,880 pounds (852 kilograms) of fuel to power its main thruster and eight smaller thrusters used for altitude control.
According to comments from an anonymous official in the India time. The system may have instructed the orbiter to spin to change direction, which caused MOM’s Earth-facing antenna to point away from our planet and the spacecraft went silent.
MOM had previously survived power outages in its first and second years around Mars, recovering completely autonomously without assistance from the ground. Early indications suggest this new outage is permanent, however, and multiple sources told The Times of India that whatever the cause, the spacecraft will not be able to recover.
“Now we are trying to determine the exact reason – whether it was fuel exhaustion or the antenna’s inability to communicate,” an unnamed senior scientist told The Times of India. “But one thing is certain, we will no longer be able to recover the spacecraft.”
MOM was India’s first interplanetary mission and made ISRO the fourth space agency to reach orbit around the Red Planet. The spacecraft arrived on Mars just in time to catch the passage of Comet Siding Spring on October 19, 2014.
The main purpose of the mission was to test the technology needed for interplanetary exploration and to use its instruments to study both the Martian surface and atmosphere from orbit.
The instruments on board included a color camera, a thermal infrared sensor, an ultraviolet spectrometer used to study deuterium and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere of Mars, and a mass spectrometer to study neutral particles in the outermost layers of the Martian atmosphere.
MOM was also carrying a sensor designed to search for methane, a molecule which, if present, could imply that life once existed on the Red Planet. ISRO has not yet revealed the conclusions of this instrument.
Follow us on Twitter @Espacedotcom and on Facebook.