Beginning today, ISRO’s Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission will face “blackout” with snapped up communication from the satellite and NASA’s MAVEN too will face similar situation as the Red Planet will pass behind the Sun in what is called “Solar Conjunction” for 14 days.
The solar conjunction, that occures every 26 months, will make NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Opportunity remain incommunicado while Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission (MoM) will send no communication during this period. NASA’s other orbiters Reconnaissance, Odyssey and MAVEN too will face the blackout during this period.
Nagin Cox of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said that the blackout is not the first conjunction for other missions but for the MAVEN spacecraft. Odyssey faced it seven times while Opportunity five times in the past. Both ISRO and NASA will sit back and wait for the black-out period to be overon June 21, instead of risking “garbled commands that could be misinterpreted or even harmful.”
ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar had informed months ago that the Mangalyaan mission orbiting Mars would face blackout when it will be in line with Sun and Earth.
“In June, we have for two weeks a communication blackout, because the Sun, Earth and Mars will be in the same line, as a result of which no communication will be possible for 14 days,” he told media in March assuring that the autonomous systems will take over during the period.
Mangalyaan reached the Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 while NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiter began encircling Mars from September 5, 2014. So far, MAVEN has completed over 1000 orbits compared to 800 by MoM.
“Ours is a highly elliptical orbit and so we will take more time… Their orbit is probably one-third of ours,” said Kiran Kumar.
For NASA, though Curiosity and Opportunity may be in a position to send “limited data” to the orbiters like MAVEN in the surface during this period, they are expected to keep a backup of what they have gathered during this period and send it once the conjunction period is over, said NASA scientists.
MAVEN and other orbiters will keep their schedule of sending data to Earth as usual but it may not reach and NASA is planning to send commands once the dark period is over. “Some of those transmissions are not expected to reach Earth,” NASA said hoping that it would overcome the gap from the back up later.