India’s first interplanetary mission, Isro’s Mars Orbiter, rocketed towards Mars from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on Tuesday to carry out experiments and search for evidence of life on the red planet.
“It is a historic moment for all of us. We have successfully put the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft into an elliptical orbit as had been intended,” K Radhakrishnan, chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), said from the control room.
“I feel delighted to announce that the spacecraft is in a good health,” he beamed.
SK Shivakumar, director, Isro Satellite Centre, summed up the Indian scientific community’s pride at the flight of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) named Mangalyaan.
“Our baby is up in space looking for scientific objects. We have a long way to go,” he said to loud applause.
Mangalyaan’s Rs 450-crore price tag is less than a sixth of the amount earmarked for a Mars probe to be launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in 13 days.
Only the US, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on Mars. Probes to Mars have a high failure rate and a success will be a boost for national pride, especially after a similar mission by China failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 2011.
China closely followed Mangalyaan’s successful launch, which will aid India’s efforts to capture more of the $304 billion (Rs 18.73 lakh crore) global space market with its low-cost technology.
Praise came in from the US scientific community. “We didn’t believe they’d be able to launch this early,” project scientist for the Nasa Mars probe, Joe Grebowsky, said.
Isro is now looking forward to two key dates -- December 1, when the MOM spacecraft leaves Earth’s sphere of influence; and September 24 next year, when it is captured by Martian orbit.
Now, the spacecraft will go around Earth for 25 days before the Isro does a trans-Mars injection on December 1 for the voyage to the red planet.
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Tension evaporates amid congratulatory pats, cheers
Scientists at the Mission Control Centre sat glued to their monitors during Mangalyaan’s launch, watching the vehicle progress through its first leg of the journey.
The flight parameters including time, relative velocity, range and altitude were constantly shown on screen, as the range operation director kept announcing intermittently: “Everything normal.”
But the nearly 44-minute flight to propel Mangalyaan also had scenes straight out of a science thriller.
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Around 20 minutes after the lift-off at 2.38 pm, the blip representing the craft’s trajectory went off the screen for nearly 15-20 minutes.
For this coasting phase, the time between the separation of the third stage of PSLV and the ignition of fourth stage, launch vehicle PSLV- C25 went out of range from all the ground stations tracking it.
The tension evaporated in a cascade of congratulatory pats and cheers when the blip came back on the screen.
The signal came from one of the two ship-borne terminals in the South Pacific Ocean.
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This signalled the commencement of the fourth stage ignition and, finally, the last leg before the orbiter was injected into the earth’s orbit.
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What’s up ahead in the 300-day journey
The spacecraft will perform a series of technical manoeuvres and short burns to raise its orbit before it slingshots toward Mars.
Mangalyaan will then travel around 780 million km to reach the red planet.
Much of the preliminary space action will be performed in the next 10 days.
First up is an orbit raising rehearsal on November 6, followed by the actual run the next day to raise the probe’s apogee (farthest point from Earth).
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On November 8, the second orbit raising operation will be done when the apogee will be raised to 40,000 km.
The orbit raising manoeuvres will continue till November 16.
The crucial trans-Mars injection is on December 1, 2013. The spacecraft will remain in the trans-Martian orbit for nearly 300 days before finally entering the red planet’s orbit on September 24, 2014.
“It will coast along the trans-Maritan orbit for nine months before making a rendezvous with Mars,” Radhakrishnan said.
Before entering the Mars orbit, the spacecraft will have to be re-oriented and its velocity will have to be slowed down. If it is not slowed down, the orbiter can vanish in space.
Once in the Martian orbit, the orbiter will perform scientific experiments through the five indigenously designed payloads for six months.
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(With inputs from agencies)