India's first moon mission 'over': space agency

NEW DELHI, Aug 29, 2009 (AFP) - India's first moon mission, launched amid much fanfare last year, came to an abrupt end Saturday after the country's lunar craft lost contact with its controllers, the national space agency said.

India launched an unmanned satellite and put a probe on the moon's surface late last year in an event that the national space agency hoped would give the country international recognition in the lunar business.

The landing of the probe vaulted the country into the league of space-faring nations led by the United States and regional neighbours Russia, China and Japan and was seen as a symbolic and proud moment in the country's development.

"The mission is definitely over. We have lost contact with the spacecraft," project director M. Annadurai told the PTI news agency.

Earlier, the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had said in a statement that radio contact with the Chandrayaan-1 satellite had been lost at 1.30 am local time (2000 GMT Friday).

The satellite was launched on October 22 and then fired a TV-set-sized probe painted in the green, white and orange colours of the Indian flag which landed on the moon on November 14.

The first mission was expected to last two years and was intended as a first step towards landing an unmanned moon rover by 2012. The ISRO also aims to launch satellites to study Mars and Venus.

Critics had underlined that India, which has hundreds of millions of people living in deep poverty, should not have embarked on a space race with starstruck regional powers.

The craft suffered a setback earlier this year when one of its sensors was burnt due to solar radiation.

As a result, it had to suspend some scientific experiments and raised its lunar orbit to 200 kilometres (124 miles) instead of the original 100 kilometres.

India had been keen to display its scientific prowess and claim a bigger slice of the global satellite business.

The first space mission cost 80 million dollars, less than half the amount spent on similar expeditions by other countries.

India began its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to cut dependence on overseas agencies.

It first staked its claim for a share of the global commercial launch market by sending an Italian satellite into orbit in 2007. In January last year, it launched an Israeli spy satellite.

But India still has a long way to go to catch up with China, which together with the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency is already well established in the commercial space sector.

Source: AFP

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