Spacecraft may crash on moon surface

Without the orbit control, the spacecraft is likely to go haywire and crash on the surface of the moon. It is an early demise for a project that was a giant leap for the Indian space programme. The flawless takeoff from Sriharikota on October 22, 2008 gave a big boost and spurred widespread interest in the space programme.

One of the payloads, the Moon Impact Probe (MIP), developed at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, crash-landed on the moon on November 14, 2008. The other 10 payloads, four from India and five from Britain, Germany, Sweden, Bulgaria and the US, had been consistently sending data and officials have said even though the mission may now be over, the data collected have met 95 per cent of the mission objectives.

The 386-crore project has had its share of problems. The Bus Management Unit, responsible in part for the controls of the spacecraft failed in the first month of the launch and was replaced by a backup. Earlier in April, the star sensors also failed, necessitating the use of gyroscopes to maintain the course. Both these failures were attributed by ISRO to the fierce radiation rays from the solar flares.

On May 19, 2009, the orbit of the spacecraft was raised from 100 km from the moon’s surface to 200 km, ostensibly to make it easier to manoeuvre as well as the thermal environment at that height, which is benign. The altitude shift affected the performance of the Terrain Mapping Camera, as the resolution of the pictures it was taking of the moon’s surface was diluted. ISRO officials refused to disclose whether the orbital change impacted the mission objectives and maintained that they were satisfied with the data obtained. The debate will again rage on whether the mission was worth the money spent on it and whether having it terminated sooner than the originally planned two years, can be termed a failure.

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