India’s mission to Mars

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A PSLV-XL launch vehicle

In less than a week we will launch our first mission to Mars. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)—also known as “Mangalyaan” (Hindi for “Mars Craft”)—arrived at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre and is undergoing pre-launch checkout. It will fly atop the highly reliable Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and is expected to enter orbit around the Red Planet in early December 2014.

The the MOM/Mangalyaan mission would utilize the Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas, situated in Spain, California, and Australia, during periods in which the spacecraft is not visible to the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN).

This is our “ technology demonstration project,” and it’s primary task is to prove that India has the technical capability to design, plan, manage, launch, and operate a deep-space mission across the vast gulf to reach the Red Planet. The spacecraft carries a payload of five scientific instruments—the Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Colour Camera (MCC), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA), Thermal Infrared Spectrometer (TIR), and Lyman-Alpha Photometer (LAP)—and will be dedicated to developing a clearer understanding the morphology, topography, and mineralogy of the Martian surface, the dynamics of its tenuous upper atmosphere, the effects of the solar wind and radiation, and the nature of the planet’s large moon, Phobos.

The MOM/Mangalyaan mission will ride aboard the uprated PSLV-XL, which made its inaugural flight in October 2008, carrying Chandrayaan-1, India’s first spacecraft to visit the Moon. The vehicle will be powered for the first portion of its flight by a single first-stage engine and six strap-on boosters, all of which utilize a solid fuel of hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene. Although the boosters will burn for just 44 seconds, the first stage will continue to drive the PSLV-XL uphill for the first 4.5 minutes of the mission. The second stage and its single Vikas liquid-fueled engine will take over for 2.5 minutes, followed by the solid-fueled third stage for 83 seconds and lastly the twin liquid-fueled motors of the fourth stage for a little over 7 minutes.

After the PSLV-XL has placed MOM/Mangalyaan into low-Earth orbit, the spacecraft will execute a series of six thruster firings to expand its orbit to an apogee of 215,000 km and a perigee of 600 km. Its Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM), fueled by monomethyl hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, was successfully tested in October 2012 at ISRO’s Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre at Mahendra Giri in Tamil Nadu. It will remain in this highly elliptical orbit for about a month, ahead of a final burn on to place it onto a trans-Mars trajectory. The spacecraft will cruise through interplanetary space for 10 months, to enter an elliptical orbit of 500 x 80,000 km around the Red Planet.

On successful mission, ISRO will become the fourth national space agency—after Roscosmos, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA)—to fly its own mission to the Red Planet.

Not only the success of this mission but even the journey so far in the area of space technology, by our scientists and engineers have made us proud and gives a this great feeling of being an Indian.

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