India’s MOM Publishes Amazing Mars Images

An artist's illustration of the MOM orbiter at Mars. Image:By Nesnad - Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29435816

Science—like literature and the arts—helps nations cooperate together, even when they’re in conflict politically. The USA and Russia are in conflict over the Ukraine and Syria, yet both nations still cooperate when it comes to the International Space Station. With that in mind, it’s great to see other nations—in this case India—taking on a greater role in space exploration and sharing their scientific results.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe has been in orbit around Mars since September 2014, after being launched in November 2013. Though the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has released plenty of pictures of the surface of Mars, they haven’t released any scientific data. Until now.

A beautiful full-disc image of Mars captured by MOM. Image: ISRO/MOM.
A beautiful full-disc image of Mars captured by MOM. Image: ISRO/MOM.

In September 2015, MOM’s orbit was adjusted to bring it to within 260 km of Mars’ surface, significantly closer to the surface than the usual 400 km altitude.  This manoeuver allowed one of MOM’s six instruments, the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA), to measure the atmospheric composition at different altitudes. The sensor measured carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen and carbon monoxide to see how they were distributed at different altitudes.

MOM’s activity at Mars is important for a couple of reasons.  Its results confirm the results of other probes that have studied Mars’ atmosphere. And confirmation is an important part of science. But there’s another reason why MOM is important, and this centres around the search for evidence of life on the Red Planet.

Methane is considered a marker for the presence of life. It’s not an absolute indicator that life is or was present, but it’s a good hint. One of MOM’s sensors is the Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM.) Methane has been detected in Mars’ atmosphere before, but these could have been spikes, and not a strong indicator of living processes. If MSM provides stronger data indicating a consistent methane presence, that would be very interesting.

Releasing these results is also vindication for ISRO. In 2008, ISRO released data from their lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, showing the presence of water on the Moon. Those results, which were gathered with an instrument called Chandra’s Altitudinal Composition Explorer (CHACE) were rejected by several scientific publications, on the grounds that the results were contaminated. Only when they were confirmed by another of Chandrayaan-1’s instruments—the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)—were the results accepted.

But MOM’s MENCA instrument is based on the CHACE instrument aboard Chandrayaan-1, so ISRO feels that MENCA’s success in the atmosphere at Mars vindicates CHACE’s results on the Moon. And rightly so.

You can read a blog post by Syed Maqbool Ahmed at the Planetary Society, where he talks about the success of MOM’s MENCA, and how it vindicates ISRO’s earlier results with CHACE that showed the presence of water on the Moon.

MOM is India’s first interplanetary mission, and is expected to last until its fuel runs out, which could take many years. India is the first Asian nation to make it to another planet, and the first of any nation to make it to Mars on their first attempt. Not bad for a mission that was initially considered to be only a technology demonstration mission.

 

India’s Maiden Mars Mission One Month out from Red Planet Arrival

India’s maiden foray to Mars is now just one month out from the Red Planet and closing in fast on the final stages of the history making rendezvous culminating on September 24, 2014.

As of Aug. 22, 2014, the Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, was just 9 million kilometers away from Mars and the crucial Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing that places India’s first interplanetary voyager into orbit around the 4th planet from the Sun.

MOM was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) at a cost of $69 Million and marks India’s maiden foray into interplanetary flight.

So far it has traveled a total distance of 602 million km in its heliocentric arc towards Mars, says ISRO. It is currently 189 million km away from Earth. Round trip radio signals communicating with MOM take 20 minutes and 47 seconds.

After streaking through space for some ten and a half months, the 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) MOM probe will fire its 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine to brake into orbit around the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 – where she will study the atmosphere and sniff for signals of methane.

The do or die MOI burn on September 24 places MOM into an 377 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars.

ISRO space engineers are taking care to precisely navigate MOM to keep it on course during its long heliocentric trajectory from Earth to Mars through a series of in flight Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TMSs).

The last TCM was successfully performed on June 11 by firing the spacecraft’s 22 Newton thrusters for a duration of 16 seconds. TCM-1 was conducted on December 11, 2013 by firing the 22 Newton Thrusters for 40.5 seconds.

Engineers determined that a TCM planned for August was not needed.

The final TCM firing is planned in September 2014.

MOM’s trajectory to Mars. Credit: ISRO
MOM’s trajectory to Mars. Credit: ISRO

Engineers also completed the checkout of the medium gain antenna in August, “which will be used to communicate with Earth during the critical MOI” maneuver, ISRO reported.

The probe is being continuously monitored by the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) and NASA JPL’s Deep Space Network (DSN) to maintain it on course.

Blastoff of the Indian developed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO
Blastoff of the Indian developed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO

MOM was launched on Nov. 5, 2013 from India’s spaceport at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, atop the nations indigenous four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which placed the probe into its initial Earth parking orbit.

Six subsequent orbit raising maneuvers raised its orbit and culminated with a liquid fueled main engine firing on Dec. 1, 2013. The Trans Mars Injection(TMI) maneuver that successfully placed MOM on its heliocentric trajectory to the Red Planet.

First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft while orbiting Earth and before the Trans Mars Insertion firing on Dec. 1, 2013. Image is focused on the Indian subcontinent.  Credit: ISRO
First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft while orbiting Earth and before the Trans Mars Insertion firing on Dec. 1, 2013. Image is focused on the Indian subcontinent. Credit: ISRO

MOM is streaking to Mars along with NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, which arrives at Mars about two days earlier.

MOM and MAVEN will join Earth’s fleet of 3 current orbiters from NASA and ESA as well as NASA’s pair of sister surface rovers Curiosity and Opportunity.

If all goes well, India will join an elite club of only four who have launched probes that successfully investigated the Red Planet from orbit or the surface – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

MOM’s main objective is a demonstration of technological capabilities and it will also study the planet’s atmosphere and surface.

The probe is equipped with five indigenous instruments to conduct meaningful science – including a multi color imager and a methane gas sniffer to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features. Methane on Earth originates from both geological and biological sources – and could be a potential marker for the existence of Martian microbes.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) marked 100 days out from Mars on June 16, 2014 and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives at the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey.  Credit ISRO
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) marked 100 days out from Mars on June 16, 2014 and the Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing when it arrives at the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 after its 10 month interplanetary journey. Credit ISRO

ISRO is also working to determine if MOM can gather scientific measurements of
Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring during an extremely close flyby with the Red Planet on Oct. 19, 2014.

MAVEN and NASA’s other Mars probes will study the comet.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing MOM, MAVEN, Opportunity, Curiosity, Mars rover and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

MOM's first Trajectory Correction Manoeuver in Baiju Raj's imagination.
MOM’s first Trajectory Correction Manoeuver in Baiju Raj’s imagination.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Requires Extra Thruster Firing after Premature Engine Shutdown

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe suffered a surprise hiccup overnight (Nov. 11 IST) when the main engine shut down prematurely and left the country’s first ever mission to the Red Planet flying in a significantly lower than planned interim elliptical orbit around Earth – following what was to be her 4th orbit raising burn since last week’s flawless launch.

MOM is in normal health,” at this time according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) – which has now scheduled a supplementary main engine firing for early Tuesday (Nov. 12) to boost the crafts orbit the missing 20,000 km required.

Monday’s engine firing only raised MOM’s apogee (farthest point to Earth) from 71,623 km to 78,276 km compared to the originally planned apogee of about 100,000 [1 lakh] km), said ISRO in a press release.

This is the first serious problem to strike MOM in space. And it seemed clear to me something might be amiss when ISRO failed to quickly announce a successful completion of the 4th firing as had been the pattern for the initial three burns.

Trajectory graphic showing new supplemental 5th Midnight Maneuver thruster firing of ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft planned for Nov. 12 (IST) following the premature main engine shutdown during 4th orbit raising engine burn on Nov. 11. Credit: ISRO
Trajectory graphic showing new supplemental 5th Midnight Maneuver thruster firing of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft planned for Nov. 12 (IST) following the premature main engine shutdown during 4th orbit raising engine burn on Nov. 11. Credit: ISRO

The premature shutdown of the liquid fueled 440 Newton main engine “imparted an incremental velocity of 35 metres/second as against 130 metres/second originally planned,” ISRO stated.

That’s barely a quarter of what was hoped for.

“A supplementary orbit-raising operation is planned tomorrow (November 12, 2013) at 0500 hrs IST to raise the apogee to nearly 1 lakh [100,000] km.”

A series of six absolutely essential firings of the 440 Newton main engine – dubbed “midnight maneuvers” – had been originally scheduled by Indian space engineers.

The purpose of the “midnight maneuvers” is to achieve Earth escape velocity by gradually raising MOM’s apogee over several weeks, and set her on a trans Mars trajectory to the Red Planet, following the spectacular blastoff on Nov. 5 from India’s spaceport.

Graphic showing trajectory that had been planned for the Fourth Midnight Maneuver of ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft on Nov. 11 until early shutdown of the 440N liquid fueled main engine.  Credit: ISRO
Graphic showing trajectory that had been planned for the Fourth Midnight Maneuver of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft on Nov. 11 until early shutdown of the 440N liquid fueled main engine. Credit: ISRO

MOM was due to depart Earth’s orbit on Dec. 1 after accomplishing the 6th of the originally scheduled thruster firings – and begin a 10 month long interplanetary cruise to Mars.

MOM’s picture perfect Nov. 5 liftoff atop India’s highly reliable four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C25 from the ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, precisely injected the spacecraft into an initial elliptical Earth parking orbit of 247 x 23556 kilometers with an inclination of 19.2 degrees.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd thruster firings were spot on and incrementally raised MOM’s apogee from 23556 km to 28814 km, 40186 km and 71,623 km respectively.

The next firing had been slated for Nov. 16.

Here’s how ISRO described the source of the main engine shutdown:

“During the fourth orbit-raising operations held today (November 11, 2013), the redundancies built-in for the propulsion system were exercised, namely, (a) energising the primary and redundant coils of the solenoid flow control valve of 440 Newton Liquid Engine and (b) logic for thrust augmentation by the attitude control thrusters, when needed.

However, when both primary and redundant coils were energised together, as one of the planned modes, the flow to the Liquid Engine stopped. The thrust level augmentation logic, as expected, came in and the operation continued using the attitude control thrusters. This sequence resulted in reduction of the incremental velocity.”

Artists concept shows Midnight Maneuver thruster firing of the liquid engine of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft.  Credit: ISRO
Artists concept shows Midnight Maneuver thruster firing of the liquid engine of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft. Credit: ISRO

It is not known at this time how or whether the requirement for a supplemental “midnight maneuver” engine firing will affect the mission’s timing at Earth and its operations and longevity at Mars.

Why are the firings called midnight maneuvers?

“Firing has to happen near the perigee and in the visibility from ISTRAC ground stations. All these orbits have argument of perigee of ~285 deg. When all these constraints are put together, firings time will almost always fall in to midnights of Indian sub continent,” said ISRO in response to a readers inquiry.

In the latest update, ISRO reports: “After achieving an apogee of around 78,000 km in last night’s Maneuver, ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft is all set to reach the apogee of One lakh km in a supplementary maneuver scheduled for 5 AM tomorrow. [Nov 12].”

MOM was to arrive in the vicinity of Mars on September 24, 2014 when the absolutely essential Mars orbital insertion firing by the 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine will slow the probe and place it into a 366 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit.

Clouds on the ground !  The sky seems inverted for a moment ! Blastoff of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO
Clouds on the ground ! The sky seems inverted for a moment ! Blastoff of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO

If all goes well, India will join an elite club of only four who have launched probes that successfully investigated the Red Planet from orbit or the surface – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The low cost $69 Million MOM mission is the first of two new Mars orbiter science probes from Earth blasting off for the Red Planet this November.

Half a world away, NASA’s $671 Million MAVEN orbiter remains on target to launch in less than one week on Nov. 18 – from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Both MAVEN and MOM’s goal is to study the Martian atmosphere, unlock the mysteries of its current atmosphere and determine how, why and when the atmosphere and liquid water was lost – and how this transformed Mars climate into its cold, desiccated state of today.

The MAVEN and MOM science teams will “work together” to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere and climate history, MAVEN’s top scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky told Universe Today.

Stay tuned here for continuing MOM and MAVEN news and Ken’s MAVEN launch reports from on site at the Kennedy Space Center press center

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 14-19: “MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

India’s First Mars Mission Launches Flawlessly on Historic Journey to the Red Planet

WOW MOM !
Blastoff of the Indian developed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO[/caption]

India flawlessly launched its first ever mission to Mars today (Nov. 5) to begin a history making ten month long interplanetary voyage to the Red Planet that’s aimed at studying the Martian atmosphere and searching for methane after achieving orbit.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) thundered to space atop the nations four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) precisely on time at 14:38 hrs IST (9:08 UTC, 4:08 a.m. EST) from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, off India’s east coast.

“Our journey to Mars begins now!” announced an elated ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan at the ISRO spaceport during a live broadcast of MOM’s launch from the mission control center. “We achieved orbit and we can all be proud.”

Flawless liftoff of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO
Flawless liftoff of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO

This was the 25th launch of India’s highly reliable 44 meter (144 foot) tall PSLV booster.

The 700,000 pound thrust PSLV rocket launched in its most powerful, extended XL version with six strap on solid rocket motors.

Launch of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from Sriharikota, India. Credit: ISRO
Launch of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from Sriharikota, India. Credit: ISRO

“I’m extremely happy to announce that the PSLV-C25 vehicle has placed the Mars orbiter spacecraft very precisely into an elliptical orbit around Earth of 247 x 23556 kilometers with an inclination of 19.2 degrees,” Radhakrishnan said, after “much meticulous planning and hard work by everyone.”

ISRO announced that MOM separated from the PSLV 4th stage as planned some 44 minutes after liftoff and that the solar panels successfully deployed.

Confirmation of the 4th stage ignition and spacecraft separation was transmitted by ship-borne terminals aboard a pair of specially dispatched tracking ships – SCI Nalanda and SCI Yamuna – stationed by ISRO in the South Pacific Ocean.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) streaks to orbit after launch on Nov. 5, 2013.  Credit: ISRO
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) streaks to orbit after launch on Nov. 5, 2013. Credit: ISRO

MOM was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in near record time after receiving approval from the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in August 2012.

“No mission is beyond our capability”, said Radhakrishnan. “MOM is a huge step taking India beyond Earth’s influence for the first time.”

A series of six burns over the next month will raise the apogee and put MOM on a trajectory for Mars around December 1.

Following a 300 day interplanetary cruise phase, the do or die Mars orbital insertion firing by the main engine on September 24, 2014 will place MOM into an 366 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit.

If all continues to goes well with MOM, India will join an elite club of four who have launched probes that successfully investigated the Red Planet from orbit or the surface – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

MOM is the first of two new Mars orbiter science probes from Earth blasting off for the Red Planet this November. Half a globe away, NASA’s $671 Million MAVEN orbiter remains on target to launch barely two weeks after MOM on Nov. 18 – from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) MOM orbiter is also known as ‘Mangalyaan’ – which in Hindi means ‘Mars craft.’

Graphic shows MOM’s initial orbit around Earth after successful Nov. 5 launch. Credit: ISRO
Graphic shows MOM’s initial orbit around Earth after successful Nov. 5 launch. Credit: ISRO

Although the main objective is a demonstration of technological capabilities, the probe is equipped with five indigenous instruments to conduct meaningful science – including a multi color imager and a methane gas sniffer to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features. Methane on Earth originates from both geological and biological sources – and could be a potential marker for the existence of Martian microbes.

MOM’s 15 kg (33 lb) science suite comprises:

MCM: the tri color Mars Color Camera images the planet and its two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos

LAP: the Lyman Alpha Photometer measures the abundance of hydrogen and deuterium to understand the planets water loss process

TIS: the Thermal Imaging Spectrometer will map surface composition and mineralogy

MENCA: the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser is a quadrapole mass spectrometer to analyze atmospheric composition

MSM: the Methane Sensor for Mars measures traces of potential atmospheric methane down to the ppm level.

Scientists will be paying close attention to whether MOM detects any atmospheric methane to compare with measurements from NASA’s Curiosity rover – which found ground level methane to be essentially nonexistent – and Europe’s upcoming 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

MOM and MAVEN will arrive nearly simultaneously in Mars orbit next September – joining Earth’s invasion fleet of five operational orbiters and intrepid surface rovers currently unveiling the mysteries of the Red Planet.

Both MAVEN and MOM’s goal is to study the Martian atmosphere , unlock the mysteries of its current atmosphere and determine how, why and when the atmosphere and liquid water was lost – and how this transformed Mars climate into its cold, desiccated state of today.

Although they were developed independently and have different suites of scientific instruments, the MAVEN and MOM science teams will “work together” to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere and climate history, MAVEN’s top scientist told Universe Today.

“We have had some discussions with their science team, and there are some overlapping objectives,” Bruce Jakosky told me. Jakosky is MAVEN’s principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“At the point where we [MAVEN and MOM] are both in orbit collecting data we do plan to collaborate and work together with the data jointly,” Jakosky said.

The $69 Million ‘Mangalyaan’ mission is expected to continue gathering measurements at the Red Planet for about six to ten months and hopefully much longer.

Stay tuned here for continuing MAVEN and MOM news and my MAVEN launch reports from on site at the Kennedy Space Center press center.

Ken Kremer

It’ s a Mind-Blowing Midnight Marvel !  Fueled PSLV rocket and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) awaits Nov. 5 blastoff.  Credit: ISRO.  Watch ISRO’s Live  Webcast
It’ s a Mind-Blowing Midnight Marvel ! Fueled PSLV rocket and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) await Nov. 5 blastoff. Credit: ISRO

…………….

Learn more about MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 14-19: “MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

Blastoff of the Indian developed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO
Blastoff of the Indian developed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Nov. 5, 2013 from the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota. Credit: ISRO

MOM’s Last Night on Earth; Midnight Marvel for India’s Mars Mission – Live Webcast

It’ s a Mind-Blowing Midnight Marvel !
India’s fueled PSLV rocket and Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) await Nov. 5 blastoff at 14:38 hrs IST (9:08 UTC, 4:08 a.m. EST). Credit: ISRO.
Watch ISRO’s Live Webcast[/caption]

MOM is spending her last night on Earth – and she’s a Mind-Blowing Midnight Marvel !

The pride of all India, and everyone’s favorite MOM is healthy and set to embark on the nation’s first ever interplanetary voyage of exploration. She aims to conduct a detailed study of the Martian atmosphere and sniff for methane – a potential indicator for life.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which is broadcasting a live webcast of the launch starting at 14:00 hrs IST, 3:30 a.m. EST at – http://isro.org/

“All vehicle systems have been switched ON,” as of now, says ISRO.

Now less than 8 hours from blastoff, the PSLV-C25 booster rocket is fully fueled and poised to streak from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, located on India’s east coast in Andhra Pradesh state.

If all goes well with MOM, India joins an elite club of four who have launched probes that successfully investigated the Red Planet from orbit or the surface – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Reaching Mars successfully is an enormous technological challenge. More than half of all Earth’s attempts have failed. But those who fail to ‘dare mighty things’ are doomed to timidity and ignominy.

Gorgeous view of the majestic Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV C25 with its passenger, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO's) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft inside. The Mobile service tower is also seen in the background.  Credit: IRSO
Gorgeous view of the majestic Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV C25 with its passenger, the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO’s) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft inside. The Mobile service tower is also seen in the background. Credit: IRSO

ISRO reports that the weather outlook is favorable for an on time launch on Nov 05, 2013 at 14:38 hrs IST (9:08 UTC, 4:08 a.m. EST).

“Weather Forecast for launch day based on today’s image from Kalpana Meteorological Satellite: Early morning, cloudy and low probability of Rain, No severe weather expected. During launch window – partly cloudy weather and no rain is expected.”

“Looks like we are heading towards a bright and sunny day for the launch,” says ISRO.

Today's weather image from India’s Kalpana Meteorological Satellite. Credit: ISRO
Today’s weather image from India’s Kalpana Meteorological Satellite. Credit: ISRO

Just hours ago the final loading of propellants into the rocket’s liquid fueled second stage (PS2) with highly toxic nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine was satisfactorily completed.

The launch gantry has been retracted to a distance of 50 meters and the 44 meter (144 foot) tall four stage PSLV booster stands at the ready under the gaze of the starry night.

Two tracking ships – SCI Nalanda and SCI Yamuna – have been deployed to the Indian Ocean.

They are now in position to relay critical in flight telemetry during the ignition of the PSLV-C25 fourth stage and the spacecraft’s separation from the rocket at T plus 44 minutes.

“For about ten minutes between the separation of third stage of PSLV and ignition of fourth stage the vehicle will not be visible from any ground stations as will be evident in the Live telecast,” says ISRO.

Tracking MOM !  Credit: ISRO
Tracking MOM ! Credit: ISRO

And the launch team is leaving no stone unturned to ensure success!

“As the country gets embraced in deep sleep – don’t forget a few hundred tireless minds at ISRO – rock-steady on their consoles and keeping their strict vigil on the several health parameters of the rocket and the MoM spacecraft,” said ISRO in a statement.

And here’s a poetic tribute to MOM from ISRO

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MOM is the first of two new Mars orbiter science probes from Earth set to blast off for the Red Planet this November. On the other side of Earth, NASA’s MAVEN orbiter remains on target to launch barely two weeks after MOM on Nov. 18 – from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) MOM orbiter is also known as‘Mangalyaan’ – which in Hindi means ‘Mars craft.’

‘Mangalyaan’ is outfitted with an array of five indigenous science instruments including a multi color imager and a methane gas sniffer to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features. Methane on Earth originates from both geological and biological sources – and could be a potential marker for the existence of Martian microbes.

The PSLV will inject MOM into an initially elliptical Earth parking orbit of 248 km x 23,500 km. A series of six orbit raising burns will eventually place MOM on a trajectory to Mars around December 1.

Tracking the MOM Mission! A complex network of ground stations, as indicated in the image, has been laid out for keeping an eye on the various phases of PSLV-C25/ ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission, including the launch, Earth bound maneuvers, Heliocentric phase as well as the Martian phase.  Additionally, two ship borne terminals have also been deployed in the southern Pacific Ocean to cover critical events during the launch phase. After satellite separation from the launch vehicle, the Spacecraft  operations are controlled from the Spacecraft Control Centre of ISRO Telemetry, Tracking And Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore.
Tracking the MOM Mission!
A complex network of ground stations, as indicated in the image, has been laid out for keeping an eye on the various phases of PSLV-C25/ ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission, including the launch, Earth bound maneuvers, Heliocentric phase as well as the Martian phase. Additionally, two ship borne terminals have also been deployed in the southern Pacific Ocean to cover critical events during the launch phase. After satellite separation from the launch vehicle, the Spacecraft operations are controlled from the Spacecraft Control Centre of ISRO Telemetry, Tracking And Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore.

Following a 300 day interplanetary cruise phase, the do or die orbital insertion engine will fire on September 24, 2014 and place MOM into an 366 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit.

MOM and MAVEN both arrive in Mars orbit within days of one another next September – joining Earth’s invasion fleet of five operational orbiters and intrepid surface rovers currently unveiling the mysteries of the Red Planet.


MAVEN’s goal
is to study Mars atmosphere in unprecedented detail. The MAVEN and MOM science teams will “work together” to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere, MAVEN’s top scientist told Universe Today.

“We have had some discussions with their science team, and there are some overlapping objectives,” Bruce Jakosky told me. Jakosky is MAVEN’s principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“At the point where we [MAVEN and MOM] are both in orbit collecting data we do plan to collaborate and work together with the data jointly,” Jakosky said.

Godspeed MOM !

Ken Kremer

Countdown Commences for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM)

The countdown has commenced and the excitement is building for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – which will conduct a detailed study of the Martian atmosphere and is the nation’s first ever mission to the Red Planet.

The 56 hour 30 min countdown started at 6:06 a.m. IST today (Nov. 3), according to an official statement from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) leading to liftoff on Tuesday, Nov 5, from a seaside launch pad in Sriharikota, India.

MOM is the first of two new Mars orbiter science probes from Earth set to blast off for the Red Planet this November. Half a globe away, NASA’s MAVEN orbiter remains on target to launch barely two weeks after MOM on Nov. 18 – from the Florida Space Coast.

A bird's eye view of the Spaceport of India ! Panaromic view of First Launch Pad with 44 meter tall PSLV-C25 rocket during launch rehearsal - Ready to commence the space voyage of ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. The Mobile service tower and the Second Launch pad are also seen.Credit: ISRO
A bird’s eye view of the Spaceport of India
Panaromic view of First Launch Pad with 44 meter tall PSLV-C25 rocket during launch rehearsal – Ready to commence the space voyage of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. The Mobile service tower and the Second Launch Pad are also seen.Credit: ISRO

ISRO will broadcast the momentous MOM launch live at – starting at 14:00 hrs IST.

“The Launch Authorisation Board has approved & cleared the PSLV-C25/Mars Orbiter Mission launch on Nov 05, 2013 at 14:38 hrs IST (9:08 UTC, 4:08 a.m. EST)” from the state-of-the-art Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, located on India’s east coast in Andhra Pradesh state.

MOM is on schedule to lift off atop the powerful, extended XL version of India’s highly reliable four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25).

Fueling of the PSLV-C25/Mars Orbiter Mission rocket stages is now in progress following a completely successful dress rehearsal and launch countdown exercise completed on Oct. 31.

“The filling of propellants into the Roll Control Thrusters as well as the Fourth stage of the PSLV C25 rocket [with mixed nitrogen oxides and monomethylhydrazine] is completed,” ISRO declared a short while ago.

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During the dress rehearsal the vehicle systems were powered, the health was normal and the spacecraft & launch vehicle integrated level checks were completed.

Two tracking ships have been deployed to the Indian Ocean to relay critical in flight telemetry.

The 44 meter (144 ft) PSLV will launch MOM into an initially elliptical Earth parking orbit of 248 km x 23,500 km. A series of six orbit raising burns will eventually dispatch MOM on a trajectory to Mars around December 1.

Graphic outlines India’s first ever probe to explore the Red Planet known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).  Launch is set for Nov. 5 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota, India. Credit: ISRO
Graphic outlines India’s first ever probe to explore the Red Planet known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM). Launch is set for Nov. 5 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, India. Credit: ISRO

Following a 300 day interplanetary cruise phase, the do or die Mars orbital insertion engine will fire on September 21, 2014 and place MOM into an 366 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit.

MOM arrives about the same time as NASA’s MAVEN orbiter. They will significantly bolster Earth’s armada of five operational orbiters and surface rovers currently investigating the Red Planet.

MAVEN and MOM will “work together” to help solve the mysteries of Mars atmosphere, the chief MAVEN scientist told Universe Today.

“We plan to collaborate on some overlapping objectives,” Bruce Jakosky told me. Jakosky is MAVEN’s principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Spacecraft attached to the 4th stage of PSLV-C25 and ready for heat shield closure. It is slated to launch on Nov. 5, 2013. Credit: ISRO
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Spacecraft attached to the 4th stage of PSLV-C25 and ready for heat shield closure. It is slated to launch on Nov. 5, 2013. Credit: ISRO

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) MOM orbiter, also known as ‘Mangalyaan’, is the brainchild of ISRO.

‘Mangalyaan’ is outfitted with an array of five indigenous science instruments including a multi color imager and a methane gas sniffer to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features. Methane on Earth originates from both biological and geological sources.

Stacking of the  PSLV-C25/Mars Orbiter Mission rocket stages at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, India. Credit: IRSO
Stacking of the PSLV-C25/Mars Orbiter Mission rocket stages at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR, India. Credit: IRSO

MOM’s 15 kg (33 lb) science suite comprises:

MCM: the tri color Mars Color Camera images the planet and its two tiny moons, Phobos and Deimos

LAP: the Lyman Alpha Photometer measures the abundance of hydrogen and deuterium to understand the planets water loss process

TIS: the Thermal Imaging Spectrometer will map surface composition and mineralogy

MENCA: the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser is a quadrapole mass spectrometer to analyze atmospheric composition

MSM: the Methane Sensor for Mars measures traces of potential atmospheric methane down to the ppm level.

Scientists will be paying close attention to whether MOM detects any atmospheric methane to compare with measurements from NASA’s Curiosity rover – which found ground level methane to be essentially nonexistent – and Europe’s upcoming 2016 ExoMarsTrace Gas Orbiter.

Although there are no NASA instruments on board MOM, NASA is providing key communications and navigation support to ISRO and MOM through the agency’s trio of huge tracking antennas in the Deep Space Network (DSN).

“At the point where we [MAVEN and MOM] are both in orbit collecting data we do plan to collaborate and work together with the data jointly,” MAVEN’s PI Jakosky told me.

“We agreed on the value of collaboration and will hold real discussions at a later time,” he noted.

India would become only the 4th nation or entity from Earth to survey Mars up close with spacecraft, following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA)- if all goes well.

Past attempts to reach the Red Planet from both China and Japan have unfortunately failed.

Some observers speculate that India’s MOM mission will ignite a new Asian Space Race.

The $69 Million ‘Mangalyaan’ mission is expected to continue gathering measurements at the Red Planet for at least six months and hopefully much longer.

Long live MOM !

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 14-19: “MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

India’s First Mars Mission Set to Blast off Seeking Methane Signature

India is gearing up for its first ever space undertaking to the Red Planet – dubbed the Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM – which is the brainchild of the Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO.

Among other objectives, MOM will conduct a highly valuable search for potential signatures of Martian methane – which could stem from either living or non living sources. The historic Mars bound probe also serves as a forerunner to bolder robotic exploration goals.

If all goes well India would become only the 4th nation or entity from Earth to survey Mars up close with spacecraft, following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) orbiter, also known as ‘Mangalyaan’, is slated to blast off as early as Oct. 28 atop India’s highly reliable Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from a seaside launch pad in Srihanikota, India.

India’s first ever probe to explore the Red Planet known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is due to liftoff as early as Oct. 28 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota, India. Credit: ISRO
India’s first ever probe to explore the Red Planet known as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is due to liftoff as early as Oct. 28 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota, India. Credit: ISRO

MOM is outfitted with an array of five science instruments including a multi color imager and a methane gas sniffer to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy and surface features. Methane on Earth originates from both biological and geological sources.

ISRO officials are also paying close attention to the local weather to ascertain if remnants from Tropical Cyclone Phaillin or another developing weather system in the South Pacific could impact liftoff plans.

The launch target date will be set following a readiness review on Friday, said ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan according to Indian press reports.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft being prepared for a prelaunch test at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota. Credit: ISRO
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft being prepared for a prelaunch test at Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota. Credit: ISRO

‘Mangalyaan’ is undergoing final prelaunch test and integration at ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Srihairkota on the east coast of Andhra Pradesh state following shipment from ISRO’s Bangalore assembly facility on Oct. 3.

ISRO has already assembled the more powerful XL extended version of the four stage PSLV launcher at Srihairkota.

MOM’s launch window extends about three weeks until Nov. 19 – which roughly coincides with the opening of the launch window for NASA’s next mission to Mars, the MAVEN orbiter.

The upcoming Nov. 18 blastoff of NASA’s new MAVEN Mars orbiter was threatened by the US Federal Government shutdown when all launch processing work ceased on Oct. 1.  Spacecraft preps had now resumed on Oct. 3 after receiving an emergency exemption. MAVEN  was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, inside the cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. With solar panels unfurled, this is exactly how MAVEN looks when flying through space.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
The upcoming Nov. 18 blastoff of NASA’s new MAVEN Mars orbiter was threatened by the US Federal Government shutdown when all launch processing work ceased on Oct. 1. Spacecraft preps had now resumed on Oct. 3 after receiving an emergency exemption. MAVEN was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, inside the cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. With solar panels unfurled, this is exactly how MAVEN looks when flying through space. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

MAVEN’s on time blastoff from Florida on Nov. 18, had been threatened by the chaos caused by the partial US government shutdown that finally ended this morning (Oct. 17), until the mission was granted an ‘emergency exemption’ due to the critical role it will play in relaying data from NASA’s ongoing pair of surface rovers – Curiosity and Opportunity.

NASA is providing key communications and navigation support to ISRO and MOM through the agency’s trio of huge tracking antennas in the Deep Space Network (DSN).

As India’s initial mission to Mars, ISRO says that the mission’s objectives are both technological and scientific to demonstrate the nation’s capability to design an interplanetary mission and carry out fundamental Red Planet research with a suite of indigenously built instruments.

MOM’s science complement comprises includes the tri color Mars Color Camera to image the planet and its two moon, Phobos and Diemos; the Lyman Alpha Photometer to measure the abundance of hydrogen and deuterium and understand the planets water loss process; a Thermal Imaging Spectrometer to map surface composition and mineralogy, the MENCA mass spectrometer to analyze atmospheric composition, and the Methane Sensor for Mars to measure traces of potential atmospheric methane down to the ppm level.

It will be of extremely great interest to compare any methane detection measurements from MOM to those ongoing from NASA’s Curiosity rover – which found ground level methane to be essentially nonexistent – and Europe’s planned 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

MOM’s design builds on spacecraft heritage from India’s Chandrayaan 1 lunar mission that investigated the Moon from 2008 to 2009.

The 44 meter (144 ft) PSLV will launch MOM into an initially elliptical Earth parking orbit of 248 km x 23,000 km. A series of six orbit raising burns will eventually dispatch MOM on a trajectory to Mars by late November, assuming an Oct. 28 liftoff.

Following a 300 day interplanetary cruise phase, the do or die orbital insertion engine will fire on September 14, 2014 and place MOM into an 377 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit.

NASA’s MAVEN is also due to arrive in Mars orbit during September 2014.

The $69 Million ‘Mangalyaan’ mission is expected to continue gathering measurements at the Red Planet for at least six months and perhaps ten months or longer.

Ken Kremer