Scientists save moon mission from failure

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 US, 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 Organisation.

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 100 kilometres 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 200 kilometres.

“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 new-found

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 miniaturisation, 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.