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India’s MOMent of glory on Mars
ISRO spacecraft enters Red Planet’s orbit
Becomes first agency to achieve feat in maiden attempt
Shubhadeep Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, September 24
Demonstrating its space prowess, India today successfully inserted the Mars orbiter carrying five payloads in the orbit of the Red Planet, thus becoming the fourth country to carry out a successful Mars mission and the first to have achieved the feat in its maiden attempt.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) facility at Peenya near Bangalore to witness the event, said: “ISRO has shown what Indians are capable of.” Noting the distance of over 65 crore km travelled by the Indian spacecraft to reach the Martian orbit, Modi said such missions were “beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and imagination”.

Karnataka Governor Vajubhai R Vala, who was also present at the Indian Space Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) along with Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Union Ministers Sadananda Gowda and Anath Kumar, described ISRO’s achievement as a “marvellous feat”.

The command for today’s operation— Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) — was uploaded on September 14 and 15. On Monday (September 22), the spacecraft arrived at the Mars’s gravitational field in a 10-month voyage after it was pushed into a transfer trajectory towards Mars from the farthest point of earth’s gravitational pull. This set off the sequence of events leading to today’s insertion of the mission in the Martian orbit.

A statement issued by ISRO said the spacecraft was now orbiting Mars in an elliptical path whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) was 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) is 76,993.6 km.

The path is not very far from ISRO's original plan to have the spacecraft orbit Mars with an apoapsis of 80,000 km and periapsis of 423 km. The inclination of the orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degree.

The insertion started at 4.17 am when the spacecraft switched over to the medium gain antenna for providing communication link during the insertion. At 6.56 am, the spacecraft initiated the process of forward rotation, reducing its speed.

The orbiter was re-oriented for alignment before firing its 440 Newton main engine and its eight 22 Newton thrusters. The engine and the thrusters were fired at 7.17 am to reduce the spacecraft’s velocity. Because of the Mars-sun-earth position at that point, the orbit insertion took place when MOM was in eclipse. In the absence of sunlight, the solar panels of the spacecraft became defunct and the radio link between MOM and ground station was blocked. About 20 minutes of the engine burn (of the total 24 minutes) happened during this phase.

At 8 am, images on a screen showed the PM clapping and ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan rushing toward him. Soon, it was announced that the Mars insertion operation had been successful. ISRO scientists Tarun Goyal later said NASA station at Canberra in Australia received the first signal of the engine function and it immediately transmitted it across to ISRO.

The engine and the thrusters were fired when MOM was speeding at 5.127 km per second in relation to Mars at an altitude of 1,847 km from the Red Planet. By the time the firing of the engine stopped, the velocity of the spacecraft was supposed to be reduced to 4.316 km per second and attain an altitude of 973 km from Mars.

Mars Orbiter

  • Five scientific instruments onboard the Indian spacecraft will explore Mars during the next six months in search of life-sustaining elements on the Red Planet
  • Mars colour camera will provide images of the planet's surface features and weather patterns such as dust storms
  • It will also supply images of the Red Planet's two moons
  • Methane sensor will look for the methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, as its presence may indicate whether life can be supported or sustained on the planet
  • Mars exosphere neutral composition analyser will study neutral gas atoms found in the outermost part of the Martian atmosphere
  • Lyman alpha photometer will measure relative abundance of two isotopes of hydrogen to understand the process by which Mars has been losing its atmosphere and turning into a dry planet

Project budget less than Hollywood flick Gravity

The Rs 450-crore MOM is the cheapest inter-planetary mission that, at just $74 million, costs less than the estimated $100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster "Gravity" and a tenth of NASA's Mars mission Maven that entered the Martian orbit on September 22.

How it happened

  • Nov 5, 2013: Launch of the orbiter from Sriharikota
  • Nov 7, 2013: First orbit raising manoeuvre
  • Nov 16, 2013: Sixth and last orbit raising manoeuvre
  • Dec 1, 2013: Trans Mars injection to free the spacecraft from the gravitational pull of earth
  • Sept 22, 2014: Test-firing of the 440 Newton main liquid engine of spacecraft
  • Sept 24, 2014: Insertion of the spacecraft into the Martian orbit

What they said

Today MOM has met Mangal (Mars). Today Mangal has got MOM. I was sure that MOM won’t disappoint us…The odds were stacked against us with only 21 of the 51 missions to Mars being successful, but we prevailed.
— Narendra Modi, Prime Minister

We congratulate @ISRO for its Mars arrival! @MarsOrbiter joins the missions studying the Red Planet. #JourneyToMars,”
— US space agency, NASA, in twitter post

We have seen the report and congratulate India on the Mars satellite entering the orbit successfully… This is pride of India and pride of Asia and also is a landmark progress in humankind's exploration of outer space.
— Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson

This event marks the culmination of a decade's worth of hard work. It's a glowing tribute to the ability of our scientists and their unfailing efforts in making this mission a success. We take this opportunity to congratulate every single individual who has been associated with this programme.
— Manmohan Singh, former PM

India earns its admirable position in the world as one of the pioneering space exploring nation with Mangalyaan.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress Chief





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