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US shutdown may mar India's Mars mission

Saturday, 5 October 2013 - 1:27pm IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: dna

The US government shutdown has cast a shadow on India’s upcoming Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).

With just over 20 days left for the MOM to embark on its journey to the Red Planet, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is in a tizzy as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) is among the US government agencies that is affected by the shutdown, that may, according to some estimates, last for weeks.

Nasa has been chosen as the deep space navigation and tracking services support for Rs450-crore MOM, which will be launched on October 28. Nasa will track the mission during the “blind” period for the Indian Deep Space Network which is located at Byalalu, about 40 km from Bangalore.

The Nasa’s Deep Space Network (DSN) is an international network of antennas that supports interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. Nasa DSN facilities at Goldstone in the US, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia were chosen to provide the deep space navigation and tracking services support.

However, following the recent shutdown, there is no guarantee if Nasa would be supporting Isro’s mission to explore the Red Planet. “Due to the lapse in federal government funding, this website is not being updated. We also cannot respond to comments, questions,” states Nasa’s website. This development has also caught Isro unaware. 

“It is too early to for Isro to comment at this stage, we need a little more time to react,” an Isro official who preferred anonymity told dna. The official added that Isro had not decided if it would seek the help of other space agencies if Nasa cannot support the mission. However, despite the shutdown, Nasa would launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission on November 18.

The launch window

Isro scheduled launch window for the Mars Orbiter Mission is between October 28 and November 19.  If Isro misses out the 2013 window, it will have to wait three more years as the available launch windows to explore the Red Planet this decade are 2013, 2016 and 2018.

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