Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Friday, 17 July 2009 11:01 UK

India Moon probe 'malfunctions'

The moon
Chandrayaan will compile a 3-D atlas of the Moon

India's first mission to the Moon has experienced a technical problem, India's space research officials say.

A sensor of the unmanned Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft has "malfunctioned" and steps have been taken to ensure it is able to continue its work, they say.

But the possibility remains that the mission may have to be cut short.

Chandrayaan-1 was launched last October and is regarded as a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia.

Scientists belonging to the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said that the "vital star sensor" of the spacecraft had "malfunctioned".

"The mission is safe, but its lifespan may be affected," Isro spokesman S Satish told the BBC.

For the moment the spacecraft has been placed on a higher orbit, but officials say this could affect the quality of the photographs being sent back.

The unmanned Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft was launched into space from southern Andhra Pradesh state.

Infographic (BBC)
1 - Chandrayaan Energetic Neutral Analyzer (CENA)
2 - Moon Impact Probe (MIP)
3 - Radiation Dose Monitor (RADOM)
4 - Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC)
5 - Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)
6 - Chandrayaan 1 X-ray Spectrometer (C1XS)
7 - Solar Panel

The spacecraft is on a two-year mission of exploration.

The robotic probe will orbit the Moon, compiling a 3-D atlas of the lunar surface and mapping the distribution of elements and minerals.

"We have already got useful information from the pictures beamed," said an Isro official.

But he said the "quality of the pictures" had been affected because of the malfunction.

Powered by a single solar panel generating about 700 watts, the Isro probe carries five Indian-built instruments and six constructed in other countries, including the US, Britain and Germany.

The mission is expected to cost 3.8bn rupees (£45m; $78m), considerably less than Japanese and Chinese probes sent to the Moon last year.

But the Indian government's space efforts have not been welcomed by all.

Some critics regard the space programme as a waste of resources in a country where millions still lack basic services.

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