Design flaw in India’s Mars Orbiter

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According to American researchers, a fundamental design flaw in the primary scientific instrument on India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter prevents it from carrying out its mission of measuring the methane in the Martian atmosphere.

“They did not design this properly for the detection of methane on Mars,” Michael Mumma, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Seeker. In 2003, Mumma led a team that made the first definitive measurements of methane on Mars using an infrared telescope in Hawaii. The methane, which appeared in plumes over specific regions of Mars, reached a maximum density of about 60 parts per billion. “The (MOM) instrument is beautifully engineered, but not for the methane task. It has other value, but unfortunately they will not be able to provide measurements of methane at the levels needed to sample even the plumes we saw,” Mumma said.

They are re-purposing the instrument to measure the reflected sunlight coming off the Martian surface, useful data to be sure but hardly worth an entire space mission.


One comment

  • Edward

    How disappointing for science.

    This design flaw was supposed to be discovered at or before the Preliminary Design Review (PDR). The main purpose of the PDR is to assure that the spacecraft’s design will perform as intended, for the cost budgeted, and within the set schedule.

    (The Critical Design Review and testing of the assembled instrument were two other opportunities to discover the flaw.)

    From what I read in the article, it seems that they used a form of data compression that did not allow them to adequately decompress the data in a way that they could get useful data.

    From the article: “The engineers know how to build a good instrument. That’s not the issue. The problem is they didn’t have the scientific guidance needed to tell them exactly what they needed to do.

    There’s an irony. One would expect that due to their inexperience with interplanetary missions, the lessons they learned would be engineering in nature, such as operations in space. Instead it is the mundane problem of the right data compression design.

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