Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Mars Orbiter Mission: The Mangalyaan

Right after the Diwali rockets, a real rocket did take off, with a crackerjack payload. The PSLV took off on November 5th  with the Mangalyaan on board. The Mangalyaan, or the Mars craft weighs a compact 500 kilos and reached the last but one stage of its orbit raising manouevures today. There were six orbit raising operations, (including a back up manouevure to compensate for the fact that the fourth orbit raising manoevure did not raise the trajectory sufficiently), with today's operation raising the  orbit to one with an apogee of 192,000 kms and a perigee of 252 km, where it will stay till December 1st, when a final firing will send MOM (as ISRO fondly calls it) into an interplanetary trajectory. The Mangalyaan hopes to enter into a Mars orbit on September 2014, almost at the same time as NASA's MAVEN orbiter, after travelling for nearly 11 months, with a cruise phase of 300 days.

The mission costs Rs 454 crores. Since the earth Mars distance is about 400 million kms, there has been a bit of discussion of how this works out to just over Rs 11 per km, cheaper than auto fares in most Indian cities (especially Chennai). This is actually even less, considering that the Mars Orbiter actually traverses 780 million kms, and also that the satellite costs 153 crores and the rest of the budget has been attributed to ground stations and relay upgrades that will be used for other ISRO projects. Given that the mission is intended to be a technology demonstrator for the design, planning and implementation of an interplanetary mission, this discussion of cost may not even be a relevant discussion. However, the ISRO scientists have had to answer the usual `must we have a Mars craft before there is drinking water in all Indian villages', `what will this mission do that other Mars missions don't' etc questions. They have done an admirable job with their answers. If the mission works well, ISRO hopes to attract contracts for a variety of space related jobs, including the launching of satellites, where they are already considered a reliable agency. As far as the utility of space technology to day to day life is concerned,  the string of satellites that ISRO has launched played a very crucial role in the early warning before the recent cyclone Phailin, due to which the loss of life was minimal in India, unlike in earlier cyclones. As far as the scientific aspects of the mission are concerned, the mission hopes to identify whether the atmosphere of Mars contains methane, as well as to map the Mars terrain. However, the real gains of a mission like this lie in its intangibles, the fillip to science and technology, the capturing of public imagination, the celebration of interplanetary travel. Is this going to be `the little ship that could'? We hope so, good luck, little ship!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi  Rao.

Update:  MoM's gearing to enter it's MARS orbit, right behind MAVEN
The Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft's main engine was successfully reignited  for four seconds as a trial at 2.30 pm (IST) before the final firing to get into the red planet's orbit early on Wednesday.(22/09/2014)

1 comment:

AmOK said...

Exciting times!!! Thanks for the notes.