August 30, 2009

Major Setback For Chandrayaan-1

According to an announcement made on Saturday, India's Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost all contact with an unmanned, automated spacecraft while attempting its first lunar exploration mission, leading officials to announce later that afternoon that the mission had been aborted.

Early Saturday morning, S. Satish, spokesman for the space agency stated that the severed contact was, "a serious problem.  If we do not re-establish contact we will lose the spacecraft."

Within a few hours, the worst case scenario had been confirmed. 

"The mission is definitely over," announced project director M. Annadurai to the press.  "We have lost contact with the spacecraft."

According to the agency, all communications with the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft were lost early Saturday morning around 1:30 a.m. local time.  Experts say that the loss of the craft will likely come as significant shock and disappointment for a country whose national pride had soared over the last year as the $79 million dollar space mission had promised to catapult India into the prestigious ranks of fellow regional space exploration rivals like China.

Satish told AFP reporters that the agency's repeated efforts to re-establish contact with the spacecraft had been of no avail.

He explained that ground control had been unable to send or receive any information from the satellite, adding that they had no means of repairing communications.

"It [the satellite] will continue to orbit around the moon.  If not controlled, it may crash after sometime on the lunar surface."

The mission was launched last October and a small lunar probe was sent to the moon's surface in November, beaming back images of the lunar landscape.

By this summer, however, an important piece of sensory equipment aboard the main craft had begun to malfunction, requiring the craft to change its orbit altitude and raising doubts about the viability of the intended two-year exploration mission.

Among the main goals of the expensive project was to search for potential sources of the rare isotope Helium 3 which physicists believe could be a potential energy source for nuclear fusion in the future.

The ISRO had hoped that the mission would be the first experimental overture towards landing a larger, unmanned moon rover in 2012.  The agency had also mentioned plans of launching satellites to gather information on Mars and Venus.

Though India has been aggressively edging its way into the global satellite market over the past several years, recently launching both Italian and Israeli spacecraft, their ambitious space program still has considerable catching-up to do in the realms of both technology and funding before they will be able to offer a true challenge to long established giants like the U.S., Russia and China.


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