Mangalyaan, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission


  • Mars mission is a month away
  • Mangalyaan is a Sanskrit: word which means Mars-craft in Hindi
  • The Mangalyaan mission is a planned Mars orbiter to be launched in November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • Spacecraft, weighing 1,350 kg, is about the size of a large hatchback car
  • The mission is a “technology demonstrator” project aiming to develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission.
  • The Mangalyaan Mars probe will lift off from ISRO’s launch site at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket in November 2013; this will be India’s first mission to Mars.

India’s Mars Mission: first look at the satellite that will orbit the planet
The first images of India’s small satellite for the red planet, Mars, have finally been released.

Mangalyaan, India's satellite to Mars, could be launched in less than a month.

Mangalyaan, India’s satellite to Mars, could be launched in less than a month.

If all goes well with the launch and the very risky and arduous, millions of kilometres long journey, India may rendezvous with the red planet. The mission will cost in the range of 600 crores.

In a few weeks, the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO plans to launch a Nano car-sized unmanned satellite that will orbit Mars and study the planet’s thin atmosphere. Since Mars is the nearest planet to Earth, if ever humans have to colonise it, the first and most necessary step is to understand the atmosphere and air around it.

The ‘Mars craft’ was unveiled on September 12 today at the place it was born, the ISRO satellite facility in Bangalore. It could lift off within a few weeks from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.

It will take a year for the satellite to reach Mars, after which it is expected to orbit around the planet for at least six months.

K Radhakrishnan, chairman of ISRO, says the satellite, named Mangalyaan, will carry five scientific instruments which will hunt the Mars atmosphere for traces of water and Methane which could indicate if life exists there. Colour photos will be sent back regularly.

While seeking clearance from the government for its Mission to Mars, ISRO had said that it hopes to look at ‘whether Mars has a biosphere or even an environment in which life could have evolved’. Experts suggest this is a tough question to answer through a tiny orbiting mission.

It will look for signature of life and reasons for loss of atmosphere on the red planet. Under the mission, India will put in orbit a spacecraft using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The satellite will undertake a 300-day journey to Mars and is expected to be put into the Martian orbit in September next year.

On Independence Day last year, in his speech to the country, the Prime Minister had formally announced that “Our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information. This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology.”

In 2008, India successfully launched its maiden mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1, which brought back the first clinching evidence of the presence of water on the parched lunar surface. Some say India’s plans to explore Mars denote an ambition to beat rival China to it.

“We are not racing with anybody and the Indian mars mission has its own relevance”, said Mr Radhakrishnan, but he admitted there is an element of ‘national pride’ involved with the mission.

India’s Mars mission in November

India’s launch preparations for the ambitious Rs 450 crore Mars orbiter mission achieved a major milestone with the successful thermo-vacuum test of the spacecraft with its payloads (scientific instruments).

A PSLV preparing for launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO.

A PSLV preparing for launch from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO.

It extensively tested the spacecraft under simulated space environment. The spacecraft would now undergo vibration and acoustic tests before being transported from here by month-end to the spaceport of Sriharikota, where the launch campaign has already commenced.

The spacecraft is slated to be launched by Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) during October 21-November 19.

The first stage of PSLV-C25 with strap-ons has already been assembled, with the rocket ready for satellite integration by October ten, officials of Indian Space Research Organisation said.

ISRO said the primary objectives of the mission are to demonstrate India’s technological capability to send a satellite to orbit around Mars and conduct meaningful experiments such as looking for signs of life, take pictures of the red planet and study Martian environment.

The satellite will carry compact science experiments, totalling a mass of 15 kg. There will be five instruments to study Martian surface, atmosphere and mineralogy.

Mangalyaan’s 15 kg scientific payload is reported to consist of five instruments:

  1. Methane Sensor For Mars (MSM)
  2. Mars Colour Camera (MCC)
  3. Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA)
  4. TIR Spectrometer (TIS)
  5. Lyman-Alpha Photometer (LAP)

After leaving earth orbit in November, the spacecraft will cruise in deep space for 10 months using its own propulsion system and will reach Mars (Martian transfer trajectory) in September 2014.

The 1350 kg spacecraft subsequently is planned to enter into a 372 km by 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars.

“We want to look at environment of Mars for various elements like Deuterium-Hydrogen ratio. We also want to look at other constituents — neutral constituents”, ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan told PTI recently.

“There are several things which Mars will tells us, this is what the scientific community thinks about the life on Mars”, he had said.

“Our (Mars mission) experiments are planned in such a way that you can decide when you want to put on each of these systems,” Mr. Radhakrishnan had said.

“If we succeed (in the mission), it positions India into group of countries who will have the ability to look at Mars. In future, certainly, there will be synergy between various countries in such exploration. That’s taking place. That time India will be a country to be counted”, he said.

More of the Mars Mission and its preparation

India’s very own Mars excursion — a journey of over 385 million km — is just over a month away as the Indian Space Research Organisation prepares to launch the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft between October 21 and November 19 from Sriharikota.

The MOM spacecraft carries five instruments or payloads to study as many aspects of Mars, including the detection of methane in its atmosphere.

Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) here S.K. Shivakumar said at a news conference on Wednesday that the spacecraft and its support elements were completed within a year — a very short period — of its approval.

“Things are in final shape. All tests for achieving this and everything that’s required have been done. The ground station network is upgraded and the reception centre reconfigured. We are pretty confident that the PSLV takes this satellite to the right orbit.”

Programme Director M. Annadurai and Project Director S. Arunan said the spacecraft would be shipped to Sriharikota’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre on September 27, a day after the pre-shipment review and a national committee review on September 19.

Mr. Arunan said non-readiness of the larger GSLV had forced India to use a light-lift, low-cost rocket such as the liquid-engine-powered PSLV for propulsion.

As a result, the spacecraft will take over 20 days to get on to the path to Mars and require six orbit boosts whereas other Mars missions take just a day.

As communication with the spacecraft takes 20 minutes each way, it has many components of in-built autonomy to correct itself. The ISRO has developed its own navigation software.

Asked if this costly “me-too” mission would not merely be a duplication of other Mars probes, Dr. Shivakumar said the new instruments were technological gains and India would also benefit from its own experience and perspectives on Mars.

NASA sending mission

National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) would provide support to the ground-segment operations from the Deep Space Network.About the same time the Indian spacecraft takes off, NASA too will send up its MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) mission to Mars. But the two will work independently, Dr. Shivakumar said.

“MAVEN is scheduled to leave on November 18 and reach the red planet two days ahead of ours, by September 22 next year. MOM will have an elliptical orbit of 375 km x 80,000 km; MAVEN will take a very close look at its subject from about 50-75 km.”

See more images here: India’s Mars Mission

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