India’s Mars Orbiter Silent After Running Out of Fuel

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Indian school children pose for photographs with a poster of Mars Orbiter Mission satellite as they celebrate its success in Chennai, India, Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014.

School children in India pose with a poster of the Mars Orbiter Mission.
Photo: ArunSankar K (AP)

In orbit around Mars since 2014, India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft has suddenly gone silent. Mission controllers are no longer able to communicate with the orbiter, which is assumed to have run out of fuel and battery power, but only after long-exceeding its mission lifespan.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) appears to be over, with sources confirming to news outlets in India that there would be no way to recover the spacecraft. The mission launched on November 5, 2013, marking India’s first interplanetary mission. The Mangalyaan spacecraft entered Mars orbit on September 23, 2014, and has been observing the Martian atmosphere and surface since then.

The Mangalyaan mission was only supposed to last for six months, but the spacecraft just kept on going. Recently, however, the orbiter endured long hours of darkness caused by back-to-back eclipses, which meant that its solar array wasn’t receiving enough sunlight to generate power. The orbiter’s battery is designed to handle eclipses lasting for as long as 100 minutes, but one of the recent eclipses lasted for nearly eight hours, according to a source from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) that spoke to India’s The Tribune. As a result, the spacecraft’s battery was fully drained and all of its fuel was consumed, the source added.

ISRO had been performing orbital maneuvers to keep the spacecraft out of the shadows cast by the eclipse, but mission control was seemingly unable to avoid the last two eclipses, according to The Tribune. All this said, the space agency has not officially declared the Mangalyaan spacecraft dead—at least not yet.

Indeed, the situation doesn’t look good, but the Mangalyaan mission will go down in history; at the time, it made India the fourth nation to reach Martian orbit, the others being United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Union. More spacefaring nations have set their eyes on the Red Planet since, with the United Arab Emirates launching the Hope probe in July 2020, which successfully entered Mars’ orbit in February 2021, and China’s Tianwen-1 probe, which reached the Red Planet on February 24, 2021.

India’s space agency is planning to launch an upgraded Mangalyaan 2 in 2024, and even send a spacecraft to scorching hot Venus in 2025.

More: Is The Focus On India’s “Cheap” Mission To Mars Missing The Point?

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