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Bangalore, we had a problem

Tmc-polar-region.jpgIndia’s first Moon-orbiting satellite suffered a key instrument failure almost three months ago – but scientists kept news of the problem under wraps while they rushed to find a work-around.

Madhavan Nair, chair of the Bangalore-headquartered Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has now ‘fessed up to the world’s media: all is salvaged, he says, and in any case the mission is pretty much successfully concluded, science-wise.

The unmanned Chandrayaan-1, which launched last October, developed a fault on 26 April in its onboard orienteering “star sensor”, which keeps the probe’s instruments pointing Moon-wards. On 19 May, the satellite was raised from a 100km orbit to a higher, more stable 200-km orbit above the Moon’s surface. ISRO scientists enlisted the aid of onboard gyroscopes and an antenna mechanism to keep the satellite pointed the right way. Science reports that Nair says there was no need to go public, since there was “no degradation or deterioration in the mission”.

Other media reports quote ISRO officials saying the quality of pictures beamed from the satellite have been compromised, and the mission may have to be cut short (BBC).

Nair told reporters that in any case, 90 percent of the two-year mission’s objectives has already been achieved. (AP). Chandrayaan-1 has taken high-resolution images, hurled an impact probe near the Moon’s south pole in November, and has also found hints of ice at the lunar north pole. “The scientific community is extremely happy with the already obtained data and the results of analysis could be expected in about 6 months to 1 year,” an ISRO press release states.

Image: the bright rim of the Moretus crater at the Moon’s south pole/ISRO

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