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300 days to Mars: Countdown begins for India

Crossing a major milestone in the country's space history, Isro's Mars Orbiter mission in the early hours of Sunday ventured out of Earth's sphere of influence for the first time in an attempt to reach the red planet's orbit.

india Updated: Dec 02, 2013 00:52 IST
Vanita Srivastava
Vanita Srivastava
Hindustan Times
Mars Orbiter mission,Mars Transfer Trajectory,Trans Mars Injection

India's maiden mission to Mars - the Mars Orbiter spacecraft - left Earth's orbit in the early hours of Sunday to begin its 300-day voyage to the red planet.

At 0049 hours (IST) on Sunday, the Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) started the trans-Mars injection - a critical event for hurling its Mars Orbiter spacecraft into the planned orbit around the Sun.

The manoeuvre took about 22 minutes, and the spacecraft was successfully placed in the Mars transfer trajectory to begin its 680-million km voyage to reach the planet's orbit.

"The trans-Mars injection has been completed successfully. With this a major challenge has been crossed. Our next challenge is the Mars Orbit insertion on September 24, 2014," Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan told Hindustan Times.

"In between, we can have some mid-course corrections. The first one can be planned for December 11."

If the spacecraft makes it to Mars, India will join a select club of the US, Russia and Europe - who have all had a close encounter with Mars.

After reaching the Mars orbit, the five payloads on the spacecraft will perform experiments for six months.

The Mars Orbiter mission was launched by Bangalore-headquartered Isro on November 5 from Sriharikota.

"The liquid engine burn time during the trans-Mars injection was 1328.89 sec and the imparted incremental velocity was 647.96 m/sec. Following the completion of this manoeuvre, the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended," said Isro right just after the operation was completed.

The spacecraft had so far been in Earth-bound orbits with different apogees (the farthest point from Earth). Five orbit-raising manoeuvres had been performed on Mars Orbiter, and the apogee was raised to over 1.92 lakh km before it was successfully placed in the Mars transfer trajectory.

After moving from Earth's orbit, the spacecraft will be monitored from the Spacecraft Control Centre at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore with support from Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) antennae at Byalalu.

Three ground stations of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA, at Madrid, Goldstone and Canberra will also assist Isro in monitoring the spacecraft.

Programme director Mylswamy Annadurai told HT that the next immediate challenge was to ensure that the spacecraft remained on its intended track.

"The solar radiation pressure can disturb the spacecraft and we have to ascertain that the spacecraft is able to balance itself against the solar radiation pressure," he said.

"We have solar panels which can be manipulated slowly so that any kind of disturbance in the orbit is accordingly balanced."

After 72 hours, the spacecraft would have moved nearly 9.25 lakh km from Earth, Annadurai said.

"We will soon be able to determine from the ground station data whether the spacecraft is on its targeted path, and accordingly plan the mid course correction."

Dr Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, space security expert and senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation, said it was a major technological accomplishment for India.

"This was an extremely complicated manoeuvre and is a major achievement in India's space establishment," he said.

First Published: Dec 01, 2013 02:22 IST