Mars Orbiter Mission Ends Eight-Year Mission

India lost contact with its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) after it ran out of fuel. The mission was originally slated to last six months but ended up lasting eight years.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) officially called it Mangalyaan, which is Hindi for “Mars Craft.” It served primarily as a technology test for sending probes into Martian orbit and carried five scientific instruments for studying Mars’ atmosphere and surface.

It launched on November 5, 2013, and reached Martian orbit on September 23, 2014. The probe had a mass of 488 kilograms (1,075 pounds in Earth gravity).

India built the Mars Orbiter Mission on a tight $75 million budget, making it a contender for the “most science per dollar spent” award. NASA paid $671 million for the MAVEN mission, which launched at around the same time.

Scientific instruments included:

  • Mars Color Camera
  • Lyman Alpha Photometer
  • Thermal Imaging Spectrometer
  • Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer
  • Methane Sensor for Mars

The ISRO’s ground controllers for the Mars Orbiter Mission lost contact with the orbiter in April 2022. Following normal procedure, they spent several months trying to revive it before officially declaring the mission ended in October 2022.

Science From MOM Could Improve Odds for Future Mars Exploration Missions

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission beat the odds. At the time it went to Mars, 23 out of 41 probes sent to Mars by the entire world had failed to even reach the Red Planet.

Its instruments’ observations included a dust storm on Mars, which gives scientists a better understanding of how dust works on Mars.

Previous dust storms led to the loss of lunar landers and rovers. NASA’s InSight lander is currently trying to ride out a dust storm, which poses a threat to its ability to produce power with its solar panels. A previous planetwide dust storm ended the Opportunity rover’s impressively long mission in 2018.

A planetwide dust storm led to the discovery of the famous Olympus Mons, a shield volcano that is the largest known mountain in the solar system. That same dust storm destroyed the Soviet Union’s Mars 3 lander in 1971. (The Mars 2 lander, which was sent at the same time, also failed but they believe it simply tried to land at too steep an angle.) A crowdsourced campaign may have found hardware from Mars 3 using images from the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Martian dust storms are usually not as powerful as the book/movie The Martian implied. They normally won’t knock over your return vehicle or send one of your crew members flying. However, they can block solar panels from producing enough power for landers and rovers on Mars or get dust in the sensitive electronics. That’s something designers of future Mars exploration missions will have to plan for.

MOM’s instruments photographed the far side of the Martian moon Deimos. It also collected data on Martian landslides.

The data from Mars Orbiter Mission is still available for scientists to study. 7,200 users have signed up to download the data, with 400 of them being international researchers from 50 countries.