Sunday, August 30, 2009

India Ends Lunar Mission After Losing Probe Signal

By Ed Johnson

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- India’s space agency ended an $82 million mission to map the surface of the moon after failing to restore contact with its unmanned Chandrayaan I craft.

Contact was lost with the probe two days ago and scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation were unable to restore communications, state-run broadcaster Doordarshan reported on its Web site. The craft began orbiting the moon last November.

“We had to terminate the mission,” the broadcaster cited ISRO chief Madhavan Nair as saying yesterday. “We survived for 315 days which is a good record. Many such experiments have burnt within a month in the past.”

Chandrayaan I, or “Moon Craft,” was launched on Oct. 22 last year to map the lunar terrain as a first step toward landing an unmanned rover there by 2012. The moon is again the focus of international exploration 40 years after American Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on its surface, with the U.S., China, South Korea and Russia planning manned or unmanned missions in coming years.

A malfunction in computers on board the spacecraft led to the failure in communications, which will be probed by a committee of scientists, Doordarshan cited Nair as saying.

“We are disappointed with the development, but have managed to get a large volume of data,” including 70,000 images of the moon, Nair told reporters.

Lunar Surface

The craft was designed to orbit the moon for two years at an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles). It will take 1,000 days to hit the lunar surface and is being tracked by the U.S. and Russia, according to the report.

The Chandrayaan I is carrying 11 payloads, including a terrain-mapping camera developed by India designed to prepare a three-dimensional atlas of the moon.

It is also carrying mapping instruments for the European Space Agency, radiation-measuring equipment for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and two devices for NASA to assess mineral composition and look for ice deposits.

India launched its first rocket in 1963 and first satellite in 1975. The country’s satellite program is one of the largest communication systems in the world. The next step in the lunar mission, the Chandrayaan II, which aims to land an unmanned rover on the moon’s surface to prospect for chemicals, won’t be delayed, Doordarshan cited Nair as saying.

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