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Close Call For India’s Satellite Moon Mission

July 17, 2009

An official said on Friday that India’s only satellite orbiting the moon almost overheated before scientists were able to save it and achieve more than 90 percent of the mission’s objectives, The Associated Press reported.

India’s October 2008 launch of Chandrayaan-1 put the country in an elite group along with the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China to have lunar missions in space.

Chandrayaan translates to “moon craft” in Sanskrit.

However, the Indian Space Research Organization’s chief Madhavan Nair told reporters the satellite lost a critical instrument called the star sensor on May 16.

The satellite’s star sensor helps it stay oriented so its cameras and other recording equipment stay lined up with the lunar surface.

Nair said by activating the satellite’s gyroscope, which also gives satisfactory orientation, ISRO scientists managed to right the $80 million satellite within a week and resume normal operations.

He also dismissed any suggestions that the sensor’s failure might reduce the life span of the spacecraft, since over 90 percent of the two-year mission’s objectives had already been attained.

“The life of the spacecraft is not dependent on this instrument. This instrument is used only for orientation of the spacecraft,” he said.

Nair added that the sensor couldn’t be recovered at this stage and they hope that the remaining part of the mission would be completed.

The satellite came close to overheating and failing after it was put into orbit 60 miles from the moon, according to Nair’s interview with the NDTV television network.

Nair said the entire spacecraft would have baked and would have been simply lost.

India’s economy has grown due to the nation’s high-tech sector and it is now working towards converting its newfound wealth into political and military efforts.

The Chandrayaan project will hopefully boost India’s capacity to build more efficient rockets and satellites, especially through miniaturization, and open research avenues for young Indian scientists.

India is preparing efforts to follow the Chandrayaan by landing a rover on the moon in 2011.

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