Saturday May 26, 2018

ISRO’s Mars Orbiter survives 15-day blackout in Martian atmosphere

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Bengaluru: India’s maiden Mars Orbiter Mission survived a 15-days long solar eclipse (June 8-22) and emitted signals back to earth, the space agency chief said on Friday.

“Our Orbiter spacecraft has survived the blackout in the Martian atmosphere when sun came in between the red planet and the earth and was cut off from us. Coming out of the eclipse phase, it is communicating signals,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar told reporters here.

The 1,340 kg spacecraft was under solar conjunction from June 8 when it went behind the sun and away from the earth due to solar eclipse, which occurs once in 26 months over the red planet.

“The Orbiter’s communication signals that were disrupted by the sun’s corona (outer atmosphere) during the fortnight-long eclipse got activated and its five payloads (scientific instruments) resumed activities after being on autonomous mode,” Kiran Kumar said on the margins of a a global conference on “Science for Society” by alumni of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Noting the spacecraft had withstood a crucial phase of nine months after reaching the Martian orbit, he said that the Orbiter would continue to spin around the red planet for years as it had saved enough fuel since its November 5, 2013 launch from Sriharikota spaceport.

“Though the Orbiter’s initial lifespan was intended to last six months after entering the Martian orbit (on September 24, 2014), it has been extended since March and is likely to survive many years as it is hardly using any fuel,” he said.

Lauding the scientists for the mission’s success, he said that from the Orbiter’s launch till its insertion after a 10-month voyage through the inter-planetary space, the mission did not encounter any untoward incident or deviation, which otherwise would have consumed precious fuel though provision was made for such occurrence.

Noting that the mission’s objective of exploration would continue till the spacecraft survives, Kumar said that the Orbiter had completed about 100 revolutions around the planet and its five experiments had transmitted enormous data to the space agency’s deep space network near here.

“As a bonus of its extended life, we will collect more data and information on the seasons on Mars and its images. Our payloads have found out many things during the last six-nine months, which are being validated,” he added.

The Orbiter’s Mars Colour Camera had transmitted about 400 images of the red planet till date to the space agency’s telemetry tracking and command network (Istrac) in the city, while its spectrometer, Lyman Alpha photometer, thermal infrared imaging spectrometer and methane sensor have relayed data of their findings.

India created history by becoming the first country to have a craft enter the Martian orbit in maiden attempt after a nine-month voyage through the inter-planetary space.

It also became the first Asian country to have entered Mars’ sphere of influence (gravity) in maiden attempt, as a similar mission by China failed to succeed in 2011.

The Rs.450 crore ($70 mn) Mars mission was launched November 5, 2013 on board a polar rocket. It had 855 kg fuel but consumed about 800 kg since then for its orbit-raising exercises undertaken during its nine-month long journey and on entering the Martian sphere.

Scientists at the mission control centre here monitor its orbital movement and check health of its instruments round-the- clock.

Orbiter takes 3.2 earth days or 72 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds to go around Mars once while orbiting at a distance of 500km nearest and over 80,000km farthest from its surface. (IANS)

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home

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NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars
NASA Curiosity Rover Gets its Drilling Groove Back on Mars. Pixabay

After a mechanical problem took NASA Mars rover Curiosity’s drill offline in December 2016, it has now successfully tested a new drilling method on the Red Planet, making a 50-millimetre deep hole in a target called “Duluth”, NASA has said.

Engineers working with the Curiosity Mars rover have been hard at work testing a new way for the rover to drill rocks and extract powder from them.

On May 20, that effort produced the first drilled sample on Mars in more than a year, NASA said in a statement on Wednesday.

The new technique, called Feed Extended Drilling, keeps the drill’s bit extended out past two stabiliser posts that were originally used to steady the drill against Martian rocks.

It lets Curiosity drill using the force of its robotic arm, a little more like the way a human would drill into a wall at home.

“The team used tremendous ingenuity to devise a new drilling technique and implement it on another planet,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Manager Steve Lee of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Representational image.
Representational image. Pixabay

“Those are two vital inches of innovation from 60 million miles away. We’re thrilled that the result was so successful,” Lee said.

Drilling is a vitally important part of Curiosity’s capabilities to study Mars.

Inside the rover are two laboratories that are able to conduct chemical and mineralogical analyses of rock and soil samples.

The samples are acquired from Gale Crater, which the rover has been exploring since 2012.

“We’ve been developing this new drilling technique for over a year, but our job isn’t done once a sample has been collected on Mars,” said JPL’s Tom Green, a systems engineer who helped develop and test Curiosity’s new drilling method.

Also Read: NASA Probe to ‘Touch’ the Sun Will Carry 1.1 mn Names

“With each new test, we closely examine the data to look for improvements we can make and then head back to our test bed to iterate on the process.”

There’s also the next step to work on — delivering the rock sample from the drill bit to the two laboratories inside the rover.

As soon as this Friday, the Curiosity team will test a new process for delivering samples into the rover’s laboratories, NASA said. (IANS)