The Mangalyaan spacecraft orbiting Mars will face its first big test when it tries to gather high-quality data from a comet that will pass the red planet 25 days from now, a former Isro chief said on Thursday.
UR Rao, former head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), spoke to HT about the challenges facing the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) when the Siding Spring comet, named after the observatory in Australia from where it was discovered a year ago, passes close to Mars’ surface on October 19.
“Very little is known about it… Comets contain very large quantities of methane and water, so this is really important,” he said.
Rao, however, said the odds were stacked against the Indian spacecraft.
“The US craft Maven is there and we know that they too are going to glean as much information about Siding Spring as they can,” Rao said, referring to the Nasa spacecraft that entered the Martian orbit on Monday, two days before Mangalyaan successfully settled into the orbital path.
MOM hasn’t yet completed a full orbit of Mars.
“We still don’t know where our craft will be at the precise moment Siding Spring passes Mars’ surface,” Rao added.
He said the full orbital path of the Indian probe will be known in around three days while Maven has already changed commands and is primed for the comet’s arrival.