September 2014

MOM's the word

India achieved a major scientific milestone early morning on September 24, 2014, when the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft successfully entered into an orbit around planet Mars.

Following the successful Mars Orbit Insertion operation, ISRO has become the fourth space agency to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars orbit. While many such missions had failed in the past,India has succeeded in the first attempt itself.

The events related to Mars Orbit Insertion progressed satisfactorily and the spacecraft performance was normal, according to an ISRO news release. The Spacecraft is now circling Mars in an orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km. The inclination of orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degree, as intended. In this orbit, the spacecraft takes 72 hours 51 minutes 51 seconds to go round the Mars once, the release said.

Mars Orbiter Spacecraft was launched on-board India's workhorse launch vehicle PSLV on November 5, 2013. On December 1, 2013, following Trans Mars Injection (TMI) manoeuvre, the spacecraft escaped from orbiting the earth and followed a path that would allow it to encounter Mars on September 24, 2014.

Mars Orbiter Mission is India's first interplanetary mission to planet Mars. The Mission is primarily technological mission considering the critical mission operations and stringent requirements on propulsion and other bus systems of spacecraft. It has been configured to carry out observation of physical features of Mars and carry out limited study of Martian atmosphere with following five payloads: Mars Colour Camera (MCC), Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA) and Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP). The spacecraft will be thoroughly tested in the Mars orbit and the systematic observation of that planet using its five scientific instruments would begin, the release stated.

NASA has congratulated ISRO on its feat. "We congratulate the Indian Space Research Organisation for its successful arrival at Mars with the Mars Orbiter Mission. It was an impressive engineering feat, and we welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

"We look forward to MOM adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars. All space exploration expands the frontiers of scientific knowledge and improves life for everyone on Earth. We commend this significant milestone for India."

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft had successfully entered Mars' orbit three days ago on September 21.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars," A NASA news release said.

"MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s."

Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands. MAVEN then will begin its one Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars' upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind, the NASA release stated.

MAVEN was launched on November 18, 2013, carrying three instrument packages. The Particles and Fields Package contains six instruments that will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet; the Remote Sensing Package will identify characteristics present throughout the upper atmosphere and ionosphere; and the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition and isotopes of atomic particles.

(Source: ISRO and NASA news releases)

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