Scientists save India's moon mission from failure
By VIJAY JOSHI (AP) – 1 hour ago
NEW DELHI — India's only satellite orbiting the moon came close to overheating and failure but scientists improvised to save it, officials said Friday
The launch of Chandrayaan-1 last fall put India in an elite group to have lunar missions along with the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China.
But last month the satellite lost a critical instrument called the star sensor, said S. Satish, the spokesman of the Indian Space Research Organization.
The sensor helps the $80 million satellite stay oriented so its cameras and other recording equipment are constantly aimed at the lunar surface. Without the sensor, the mission is useless, Satish said.
ISRO chief Madhavan Nair told the NDTV television network that the satellite came close to overheating and failing after it was put into orbit 60 miles (100 kilometers) from the moon.
"The entire spacecraft would have baked and would have been simply lost," Nair said. Many power systems and instruments failed.
The ISRO team then resorted to using other systems such as an antenna mechanism and gyroscope to make sure the satellite was "looking at the moon," Satish told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. The orbit was raised to 120 miles (200 kilometers).
"As a result, the mission is safe and all the systems are working," he said.
As India's economy has boomed, it has sought to convert its newfound wealth — built on the nation's high-tech sector — into political and military clout.
Scientists hope the Chandrayaan project will boost India's capacity to build more efficient rockets and satellites, especially through miniaturization, and open research avenues for young Indian scientists.
Chandrayaan, which means "moon craft" in Sanskrit, is scheduled to last two years.
"We hope we will be able to complete two years in this mode. It may or may not last that long," said Satish. "But there is no need for a major concern. We already have got substantial data from the moon," he said.
India plans to follow the mission by landing a rover on the moon in 2011.