India’s Groundbreaking Mars Orbiter Mission Is Officially Dead

Planet Volumes via Unsplash
Planet Volumes via Unsplash

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), a probe that has been orbiting the red planet since 2014 as the country’s first ever Mars exploration mission, has been officially declared dead.

Researchers lost communications with the spacecraft after it entered a long eclipse period with Mars on October 2. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) soon afterward issued a statement declaring: “the spacecraft is non-recoverable, and attained its end-of-life.” The mission team suspects that the probe might have run out of fuel necessary to keep it going.

“ISRO deliberated that the propellant must have been exhausted, and therefore, the desired attitude pointing could not be achieved for sustained power generation,” the statement read. “The mission will be ever-regarded as a remarkable technological and scientific feat in the history of planetary exploration.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Launched in 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission was designed to last just six months but ended up operating for nearly eight years. </p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Wikimedia Commons</div>

Launched in 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission was designed to last just six months but ended up operating for nearly eight years.

Wikimedia Commons

MOM was groundbreaking for a number of reasons. In 2014, it became the first interplanetary mission for India—and also resulted in the country being the first Asian nation to achieve a Martian orbit. The foreign ministry for China, which only launched its first mission to Mars just two years ago, even once dubbed the probe the “pride of Asia.”

The probe was originally launched primarily as a technology demonstration, thought it was still outfitted with five scientific instruments to help study the Red Planet: the Mars Color Camera, which snapped pics of the planet and its moons in its natural color; the Methane Sensor for Mars, which measured the amount of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere; the Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, which could study the surface composition of Mars via thermal imaging; the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer, which analyzed atomic particles; and the Lyman-Alpha Photometer, which measured the amount of deuterium and hydrogen in the upper atmosphere.

While it was originally designed for a six month mission, MOM ended up lasting nearly eight years in space. Over that time, it helped researchers gain a wealth of data into the “composition of several gasses in the Martian exosphere,” ISRO said. Its observations of Martian dust storms also gave insight into “dynamics of dust on the planet.”

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Perhaps the most important accomplishment, though, was the fact that it helped legitimize ISRO and India in the eyes of the international space community. For the first time, India had sent a probe to Mars. Not only that, but they accomplished it on their first try—making it the first nation in the world to do so. The mission helped earn the fledgling space agency the world’s respect, and the knowledge gained from the craft is going to help potentially bring the first Indian astronaut to Mars.

The ISRO also plans to build off of the MOM mission with a second Mars orbiter slated for a future launch. The agency is also planning to launch the Chandrayaan-3 mission in 2023 to send a rover to the lunar surface as well as the Gaganyaan mission to send a crewed spacecraft to orbit the moon.

So while it’s certainly a bittersweet moment, researchers can rest assured that the legacy of the MOM will help the country’s spacefaring efforts take off in the future.

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