India is on course to slip into Mars’ orbit on Wednesday after Isro scientists successfully tested the spacecraft’s main engine. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be at hand to watch the space agency’s bid to become the first country to conduct a successful Mars mission on its first attempt.
If the Mars Orbiter Mission, popularly known as Mangalyaan, is successful, India will join the US, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers.
The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (Isro) mission control centre at Bengaluru is scheduled to fire the spacecraft’s main engine along with eight smaller liquid engines for about 24 minutes starting 7:17 am, a tricky manoeuvre that involves slowing down the spacecraft.
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“The spacecraft is travelling at a speed of 22 km/second and it is important that it be reduced to a speed of 1.6 km/second for it to be able to work with Mars’ gravity and insert itself into the orbit,” an Isro scientist said.
Most of MOM’s Mars orbit insertion will happen in the dark because the spacecraft will be around the surface of the planet that won’t receive sunlight. The first images of Mars will be transmitted to Isro’s Indian Deep Space Network facility at Byalalu in Karnataka in the afternoon.
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Even if everything goes as planned, scientists in Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (Istrac) at Bengaluru have to wait for a confirmation call from their Australian counterparts tracking MOM from Canberra, which is expected at 8:15 am.
In case the engine fails to ignite, Isro will be dependent on eight 22N thrusters which have the capability to insert the spacecraft into a Martian orbit. “Thus, we will have to compromise and put it into an orbit whose periapsis (distance closest to Mars) will be farther than 423 km,” Isro chief K Radhakrishnan told TV channels.
Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wished their Indian counterparts luck a day ahead of the spacecraft’s insertion into Mars’ orbit. “Good luck MOM. From your JPL family,” read the message posted on Isro’s Facebook page.
Full Coverage| From India to Mars