Disappeared from the radar: How India’s Mars mission ended
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) reported that the unmanned space station Mangalyan, or MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission), orbiting Mars since September 2014, has completed its work. Instead of the planned six to eight months, the mission lasted eight years. About what new things we learned about the Red Planet during this time, as well as possible reasons for the loss of communication with the apparatus in the article.
The Martian ship
India’s first unmanned interplanetary station called “Mangalyan”, which in translation from Sanskrit means “Martian ship”. Before that, the Soviet Union, Russia, the United States, Japan and the European Space Agency had sent spacecraft to Mars.
The objectives of IOM were quite modest: testing technology needed for future flights, study the surface and atmosphere of the Red Planet. Five scientific instruments were involved: a spectral methane analyzer, a photometer to determine the concentration of hydrogen in the atmosphere, a thermal infrared spectrometer, a quadrupole mass analyzer to study the exosphere, and a color camera MCC (Mars Color Camera).
The station was launched on November 5, 2013, from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island. At an altitude of 43 miles, experts checked the equipment and the camera took the first picture. India, Tibet, the Arabian Peninsula, the eastern Mediterranean and eastern Africa were in the frame. On September 24, 2014, Mangalyan entered Mars orbit and began transmitting data.
According to the plan, the station was to remain in orbit for only about six months. But forty kilograms of fuel remained on board – twice as much as expected. ISRO decided to take advantage of this and extend the mission to study the climate of Mars more closely.
In March 2015, Indian scientists released the first results, and by September they had accumulated so much material that they published the Mars Atlas. Its 120 pages contain high-resolution color images that reveal morphological features of the planet’s surface, details of atmospheric processes, and other data.
Thanks to the ultra-wide angle of view of the Mangalyan camera, this was the first and so far the only mission that was able to cover the entire surface of Mars in one shot, as well as obtain an image of the back side of Deimos. In addition, they filmed the second satellite Phobos against the background of the Red Planet, as well as the comet Siding Spring, which came close to Mars on October 19, 2014.
The Indian mission allowed us to clarify the composition of the Martian exosphere, to determine the altitude at which the transition from the predominance of CO2 to the oxygen regime takes place. The isotope argon-40, characteristic of Earth’s atmosphere, was detected in the upper layers. The apparatus observed large dust storms, changes in the polar ice caps and albedo of the planet’s surface. And based on the results of image processing using machine-learning models, scientists compiled a classification of Martian landslides.
Saying goodbye to the station
The results of the eight-year mission was summed up at a general meeting ISRO September 27, 2022. The station lost contact with Earth in April during a long stay in the blackout zone. The exact cause of the ship’s disappearance from radar is unknown. Perhaps the fuel needed to properly orient and control the solar panels ran out, or the battery was discharged beyond its safe operating limit.
The station’s 1.5 x 1.9-yard solar array consists of three panels on one side of the spacecraft. The 800 watts of power is enough to charge the lithium-ion battery that keeps the station running when there is no light. Apparently, the blackout zone encountered by the Mangalian in April was too extensive.
Т t is also possible that the automated navigation system lost its orientation after leaving the blackout zone and forced the orbiter to make a U-turn, which caused the antenna facing the Earth to be pointed in the opposite direction. Communication with the station could not be re-established.
A farewell statement from ISRO says, “This mission will always be considered an outstanding technological and scientific achievement in the history of planetary exploration.
By the way, MOM was the most budgetary interplanetary mission in the history of astronautics. It cost only $74 million – cheaper than many Hollywood movies.
To be continued
The Indian Space Research Organisation intends to launch a second Martian mission, tentatively in 2024. Configurations including an orbiter, a landing module and a rover were considered, but again they were limited to an orbital station, but with more sophisticated instruments.
“Mangalyan-2 will be heavier than its predecessor and will carry more payloads. The centerpiece of the configuration is the ARIS ionospheric plasma analyzer. The station will also be equipped with a very high-resolution hyperspectral and panchromatic camera and radar to study the geological structure of Mars.
MOM-2 will be followed by MOM-3 with a landing module and a rover. The proposed landing site is the ancient Lake Eridania. Scientists believe there were hot springs at the bottom of this body of water 4.0-3.7 billion years ago that could have given birth to life.