Indian scientists on Monday successfully tested the main engine of the country’s Mars mission spacecraft and completed a course correction that put the probe on track to enter the red planet’s orbit on September 24.
If successful, India will become the first country to make it to Mars in its maiden attempt, propelling it to an elite club of space race leaders. Only the US, Europe and Russia have so far sent probes that have successfully orbited or landed on the planet.
“We had a perfect burn for four seconds as programmed. The trajectory has been corrected. MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) will now go for the nominal plan for Mars Orbit Insertion,” the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Facebook page said.
The liquid engine, which was dormant for 300 days, will be used with eight small thrusters during orbit entry by the spacecraft in India’s first interplanetary mission.
“The spacecraft is in good health. Mission controllers are going through the final round of the sequence of operations,” ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan told HT, adding that there was a lot more to do.
Source of graphics: Isro
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be at Isro’s command centre in Bengaluru at 7.30am on September 24 to witness the mission’s last phase after the probe broke into Mars’ sphere of influence on Monday.
Read: PM to witness Mars Orbiter Insertion at ISRO facility
The Mangalyaan, as the spacecraft is popularly known, aims to study Mars' surface and mineral composition, and search its atmosphere for methane, a chemical strongly tied to life on earth.
Video: Mangalyaan’s real test on Sept 24: Former scientist Biman Basu?
India’s Rs 450-crore expedition cost about a tenth of Nasa’s Mars mission Maven that entered the red planet’s orbit on Wednesday. Modi hailed the project’s low price tag in June, saying it was less than the budget of the Hollywood space movie Gravity.
“I hope India will consider international participation in any future missions to Mars as this mission will clearly demonstrate its capability to successfully deliver a payload to Mars and many countries would be pleased to collaborate with India,” said Mark Sims, professor of astrobiology and space instrumentation at the UK’s University of Leicester.
The 680-million-kilometre journey to Mars that began on November 5 last year has had its share of adventures and feats —five orbit-raising manoeuvres including a small glitch in the fourth such operation that was fixed.
Probes to Mars have a high failure rate and a success will boost India’s space exploration programme, especially after a similar mission by China failed to leave earth’s orbit in 2011.
(With inputs from Prasun Sonwalkar)