M A I N   N E W S

India blasts off in race to Mars
‘Mangalyaan’ clears first hurdle in its 4 crore-km journey to Red Planet
Shubhadeep Choudhury/TNS

Sriharikota, November 5
As the afternoon sun shone brilliantly over India’s spaceport in Sriharikota off the coast of Bay of Bengal, the PSLV-C25 launcher took off for its historic 44-minute journey to put the precious 1,350-kg Mars orbiter (Mangalyaan) in an elliptical orbit around the Earth, the orbiter’s first stop on its 4 crore-km journey to the Red Planet.

From the terrace of the media centre at Sriharikota, the deep orange exhaust of the 44.4-metre PSLV-C25 rocket was visible after it began its climb into the skies exactly at 2.38 pm. It then disappeared amidst clouds, became visible again briefly and what remained after that was a trail of thick smoke.

Even as mediapersons cheered the Rs 450-crore mission, the expendable rocket -- costing around Rs 110 crore -- went straight up and then took a horizontal path to put the orbiter costing around Rs 150 crore in the required orbit around the Earth. Around Rs 90 crore has been spent on augmenting the ground support/tracking systems.

The mission, once successful, will establish the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as a truly mature space agency achieving a feat that only the USA, Russia and Europe have attained and China has failed to do.

ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan described the Mars transfer orbit injection to the spacecraft on December 1 as a “crucial operation”. After this operation, the orbiter is slated to travel in deep space for 300 days before its planned insertion in the Martian orbit on September 2, 2014. This, according to Radhakrishnan, would be another crucial day for the orbiter.

Radhakrishnan said fuel, which constitutes 63 per cent of the orbiter’s total weight, has been budgeted for various operations, including the firing of the engines for the operations on December 1, 2013, and September 2, 2014. The life of the spacecraft would depend on the fuel consumed during these operations, he said.

When a foreign journalist asked the ISRO chief the point behind spending crores on a space programme when majority of Indians did not have access to basic necessities, Radhakrishnan said the Indian space programme had always been people-centric and the bulk of its budget was spent in developing space applications. He pointed out that the data provided by three Indian satellites were immensely helpful in reduction of losses during the recent cyclone that hit Orissa and Andhra Pradesh.

On the usefulness of the Mars orbiter, Radhakrishnan said the experiment with autonomy given to the orbiter would come handy for development of autonomous remote-sensing satellites in the future.

Kunhikrishnan, the launcher’s mission director, said it was a unique launch because of the Argument of Perigee required for placing the spacecraft. The proposed perimeters of the launch required the orbiter to have an apogee of 23,500 km and perigee of 250 km with an inclination of 19.2° to the Equator. Kunhikrishnan said the placement of the satellite was nearly accurate and with only negligible variations. S Arunan, the orbiter’s mission director, said the satellite systems were working smoothly and the spacecraft’s solar antenna had already been deployed.

The orbiter has five payloads, including a camera and methane sensor, all developed by Indian scientists, to study the Red Planet. The orbiter will go round Mars into an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 80,000 km and perigee of 366 km. (With agency inputs)

Long journey ahead

  • The Mars orbiter will orbit the Earth till November 30 and then its motors will be fired to push it towards the Red Planet on December 1
  • For nearly 300 days, the motor will be off while the spacecraft floats through the inky void towards Mars
  • When the spacecraft nears Mars, the motors will be restarted and fired again to put it in the Martian orbit on September 2, 2014
  • Following that, the on-board instruments would carry out their jobs

Crucial mission

  • India is aiming to reach the Red Planet at a much lower cost (`450 crore) than successful missions by other nations
  • If all goes well, India will become the fourth in the world after US, Russia and Europe to undertake a successful Mars mission
  • The Mars missions of China and Japan have failed
  • India began its space journey in 1975 with the launch of Aryabhatta (using a Russian rocket) and has accomplished over 100 space missions till date

— Manmohan Singh, PMThe successful launch is the first step towards a successful mission and is testimony to ISRO's mastery of the launch vehicle technology... I remain confident they will do the country proud.


— Manmohan Singh, PM

— K Radhakrishnan, ISRO chiefWe witnessed another excellent launch of our PSLV vehicle... I am happy to announce the spacecraft is in good health, and it has done the tasks that were intended to be done.


— K Radhakrishnan, ISRO chief

— Pranab Mukherjee, PresidentThis day shall go down as a landmark in our space programme.


— Pranab Mukherjee, President






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