By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Bangalore/Chennai, Dec 1 (IANS) India early Sunday headed for Mars in its maiden spacecraft through interplanetary space to explore the red planet.
“The spacecraft is on course to encounter Mars, about 440-million km away, after a 10-month journey around sun,” the Indian space agency said here in a statement.
India became the first Asian country and fourth nation in the world to leap into the interplanetary space with its Rs.450-crore exploratory mission to Mars, about 400 million km from earth.
The Mars Orbiter was flung into outer space at 01:11 a.m. from earth after its engine was fired at 12:49 a.m. for around 22 minutes for the trans-Mars injection.
“The trans-Mars injection operation was successful,” state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan told IANS on phone.
The Orbiter was given an incremental velocity (speed) of 648 metres per second for the crucial manoeuvre for its 680-million km voyage to reach Mars Sep 24, 2014 at a speed of 32 km per second.
“Everything went off well and all systems are working well though orbit details will be known later,” Radhakrishnan said.
Scientists at the space agency’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (Istrac), handling the Orbiter geo-centric phase, however, had some anxious moments as they did not get data from a ground station in South Africa due to bad weather.
“Due to thunderstorm in South Africa where one of our ground stations tracking the Orbiter is located, we did not have the data from there when the engine was fired. We got the data later,” Radhakrishan said.
According to ISRO’s spaceport director M.Y.S. Prasad, two of the three phases of the Mars mission have been accomplished, with the launching of its Orbiter Nov 5 in the earth orbit and injecting it in the trans Mars orbit.
“The third important phase will be capturing of Mars orbit in Sep 2014 at about 500 km from the red plante’s surface for the five scientific experiments,” Prasad told IANS on phone from Sriharikota, where the spaceport is located, about 80 km from Chennai.
Soon after midnight, the spacecraft was rotated forward in the earth’s final orbit at 192,918 km apogee (farthest from equator) to position it in the right orientation after onboard computer took over the operations.
The 1,337 kg Orbiter is being monitored from Istrac with support from its deep space network antennae at Byalalu, about 40 km from Bangalore.
Transition from the earth’s final orbit to solar orbit was programmed in line with sun’s gravity and laws of the universe to ensure Orbiter reaches precisely on time to sling into the Martian orbit after 280 days.
The mood at Istrac was upbeat as the Orbiter’s systems were working well and related activities are going smoothly.
“All the main and redundancy systems have been checked and found to be functioning well. We expect normal operations,” ISRO’s satellite application centre director A.S. Kiran Kumar told IANS on phone.
The Ahmedabad-based satellite application centre built three of the instruments – Mars Colour Camera, Methane Sensor and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer.
The other two instruments are Lyman Alpha Photometer to measure the presence of deuterium and hydrogen in the Martian upper atmosphere to understand the loss of water from the red planet and Mars Exoshperic Netural Composition Analyser.
As the fourth planet from sun and behind earth, Mars is the second smallest celestial body in the solar system. Named after Roman god of war, it is also known as red planet due to the presence of iron oxide in abundance.
Though earth and Mars have equal period of revolution around their axis, the red planet takes 24 hours and 37 minutes to complete a revolution. Earth takes around 365 days to orbit the sun and Mars 687 days.