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An orbital maneuver has allowed India’s Mars Orbiter Mission avoid an eight hour period with no sunlight — thus draining its batteries — so that the mission can be extended until 2020.
The on-board battery which was to take over had a life of just about 1.4 hours, while the eclipse was to last for 8 hours. The spacecraft’s future was bleak.
The scientists thought of a solution. On the night of January 17, a team of eight engineers at Indian Space Research Organisation’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, Bengaluru, sent a time-delayed command to the Mars probe. The command set in motion firing of eight on-board thruster rockets. Each of them were fired for 431 seconds, pushing the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) space probe to a new orbit that completely avoids an eclipse up to September 2017. The shadowing in September is of a smaller duration, which the satellite’s batteries can handle. “Because of the crucial orbital change, the MOM now gets three additional years’ life. We are expecting it to transmit data till 2020,” Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar told DH.
The mission’s science data is not as important as the experience it is giving Indian engineers in operating a planetary probe remotely from Earth. This success speaks well for the future of India’s space effort.