2 Days Out from the Red Planet, India’s MOM Probe Test Fires Main Engine for Mars Orbit Insertion

Two days out from her history making date with destiny, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully completed a crucial test firing of the spacecraft’s main liquid engine to confirm its operational readiness for the critical Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing on Wednesday morning Sept. 24 IST (Tuesday evening Sept. 23 EDT).

Engineers at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) which designed and developed MOM successfully fired the probes 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) earlier today, Sept. 22, 2014, for a duration of 3.968 seconds at 1430 hrs IST (Indian Standard Time), according to today’s announcement from ISRO.

“We had a perfect burn for four seconds as programmed. MOM will now go-ahead with the nominal plan for Mars Orbital Insertion,” said ISRO.

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission - The plan of action for Mars Orbit Insertion on September 24. Credit ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission – The plan of action for Mars Orbit Insertion on September 24. Credit ISRO

MOM counts as India’s first interplanetary voyager and the nation’s first manmade object to orbit the 4th rock from our Sun – if all goes well.

The LAM was last fired over nine months ago on December 01, 2013 to inject MOM into a ten month long interplanetary Trans Mars Trajectory.

Today’s operation verified that LAM is fully operational to perform the do-or-die MOI braking burn on Sept. 24 targeted for 07:17:32 hrs IST (Sept. 23, 9:47:32 p.m. EDT) that will place the probe into a highly elliptical 377 km x 80,000 km orbit around the Red Planet.

You can watch all the action live on ISRO’s website during the streaming webcast starting at 6:45 IST (9:15 p.m. EDT): http://www.isro.org/

The burn was also marks the spacecraft’s final Trajectory Correction Maneuver known as TCM-4 and changed its velocity by 2.18 meters/second.

“The trajectory has been corrected,” said ISRO.

The $69 Million probe is being continuously monitored by the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) and NASA JPL’s Deep Space Network (DSN) to maintain its course.

Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) has moved the spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. Credit: ISRO
Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) has moved the spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. Credit: ISRO

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 (TCMs).

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.

On “D-Day” as ISRO calls it, the LAM and the eight smaller 22 Newton liquid fueled engines are scheduled to fire for a duration of about 24 minutes.

The MOI braking burn will be carried out fully autonomously since MOM will be eclipsed by Mars due to the Sun-Earth-Mars geometry about five minutes prior to initiation of the engine firing.

Round trip radio signals communicating with MOM now take some 21 minutes.

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) probe has been streaking through space for over ten months.

MOM follows hot on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft which successfully achieved Red Planet orbit less than a day ago on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2014.

“We wish a successful MOI for MOM,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU/LASP) at MAVEN’s post MOI briefing earlier today.

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

Watch this cool animation showing the interplanetary path of MOM and MAVEN from Earth to Mars sent to me be an appreciative reader – Sankaranarayanan K V:

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

The probe is equipped with five indigenous instruments to conduct meaningful science – including a tri-color imager (MCC) and a methane gas sniffer (MSM) 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.

Both MAVEN’s 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.

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).

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

Ken Kremer

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

25 Days from Mars – India’s MOM is in Good Health!

Now less than 25 days from her history making rendezvous with the Red Planet and the critical Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing, India’s MOM is in good health!

The Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, counts as India’s first interplanetary voyager and the nation’s first manmade object to orbit the 4th rock from our Sun on September 24, 2014 – if all goes well.

MOM was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

“MOM and its payloads are in good health,” reports ISRO in a new update.

As of today, Aug. 31, MOM has traveled a total distance of over 622 million km in its heliocentric arc towards Mars, says ISRO. It is currently 199 million km away from Earth.

25 Days to Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing for ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Sept. 24, 2014. Prelaunch images show MOM undergoing solar panel illumination tests during 2013 prior to launch.  Credit: ISRO
25 Days to Mars Orbit Insertion engine firing for ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on Sept. 24, 2014. Prelaunch images show MOM undergoing solar panel illumination tests during 2013 prior to launch. Credit: ISRO

Altogether the probe has completed over 90% of the journey to Mars.

In the past week alone it has traveled over 20 million km and is over 10 million km further from Earth. It is now less than 9 million kilometers away from Mars

Round trip radio signals communicating with MOM now take some 21 minutes.

The 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) probe has been streaking through space for nearly ten months.

To remain healthy and accomplish her science mission ahead, the spacecraft must fire the 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, 2014 places MOM into an 377 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars.

Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) has moved the spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. Credit: ISRO
Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) moved the spacecraft into the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. 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.

MOM is streaking to Mars along with NASA’s MAVEN orbiter, which arrives a few days earlier on September 21, 2014.

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

The probe is equipped with five indigenous instruments to conduct meaningful science – including a tri color imager (MCC) and a methane gas sniffer (MSM) 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.

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

Ken Kremer

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

India’s 1st Mars Mission Celebrates 100 Days and 100 Million Kilometers from Mars Orbit Insertion Firing – Cruising Right behind NASA’s MAVEN

India’s inaugural voyager to the Red Planet, the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM, has just celebrated 100 days and 100 million kilometers out from Mars on June 16, until the crucial Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) engine firing that will culminate in a historic rendezvous on September 24, 2014.

MOM is cruising right behind NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which celebrated 100 days out from Mars on Friday the 13th of June. MAVEN arrives about 48 hours ahead of MOM on September 21, 2014.

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.

Working together, MOM and MAVEN will revolutionize our understanding of Mars atmosphere, dramatic climatic history and potential for habitability.

The do or die MOI burn on September 24, 2014 places MOM into an 377 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars.

Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) has moved the spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. Credit: ISRO
Trans Mars Injection (TMI), carried out on Dec 01, 2013 at 00:49 hrs (IST) has moved the spacecraft in the Mars Transfer Trajectory (MTT). With TMI the Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended and the spacecraft is now on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun. Credit: ISRO

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.

But before reaching Mars, mission navigators must keep the craft meticulously on course on its heliocentric trajectory from Earth to Mars through a series of in flight Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TMSs).

The second TCM was just 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. Two additional TCM firings are planned in August and September 2014.

To date the probe has flown about 70% of the way to Mars, traveling about 466 million kilometers out of a total of 680 million kilometers (400 million miles) overall, with about 95 days to go. One way radio signals to Earth take approximately 340 seconds.

MOM reached the halfway mark to Mars on April 9, 2014.

MOM's first Trajectory Correction Manoeuver in Baiju Raj's imagination.
MOM conducts Trajectory Correction Manoeuver (TCM) in Baiju Raj’s imagination.

ISRO reports the spacecraft and its five science instruments are healthy. It is being continuously monitored by the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) and NASA JPL’s Deep Space Network (DSN).

MOM’s journey began with a picture perfect blast off 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.

A series of six subsequent orbit raising maneuvers ultimately culminated with a liquid fueled main engine firing on Dec. 1, 2013 for the Trans Mars Injection(TMI) maneuver that successfully placed MOM on a heliocentric elliptical trajectory to the Red Planet.

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).

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

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.

Together, MOM and MAVEN will fortify Earth’s invasion fleet at Mars. They join 3 current orbiters from NASA and ESA as well as NASA’s pair of sister surface rovers Curiosity and Opportunity.

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.

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

Ken Kremer

MAVEN - NASA’s next Red Planet orbiter - marks 100 days from Mars orbit insertion (MOI) engine firing on Friday the 13th of June 2014. MAVEN arrives at Mars on September 21, 2014.  Credit: NASA
MAVEN – NASA’s next Red Planet orbiter – marks 100 days from Mars orbit insertion (MOI) engine firing on Friday the 13th of June 2014. MAVEN arrives at Mars on September 21, 2014. Credit: NASA

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Learn more about NASA’s Mars missions, upcoming sounding rocket and Orbital Sciences Antares ISS launch from NASA Wallops, VA in July and more about SpaceX, Boeing and commercial space and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations.

June 25: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Launch (July 10) and Suborbital Rocket Launch (June 26) from Virginia” & “Space mission updates”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, evening

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

India Launched 11 Rockets to Monitor Eclipse

India launched a small fleet of rockets to monitor the effects of the annular solar eclipse that occurred today. A total of 11 Rohini sounding rockets – suborbital rockets designed for scientific experiments – were launched from several different sites, including the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota. These rockets, launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), carried instruments to measure the effect the eclipse had on the Earth’s atmosphere.

The eclipse – which lasted 11 minutes and 8 seconds at its peak, was visible to observers in Africa, southern Asian countries, India and China. This was an annular eclipse, meaning that the Moon blocked the Sun’s light enough for a bright ring to be seen around the silhouette of the Moon, and was the longest such eclipse of the millennium.

There are several phenomena that take place in the lessening of the Sun’s rays during an eclipse. When the solar radiation drops during an eclipse, the ionization that occurs in the atmosphere is temporarily lowered, causing disruptions in the Equatorial Electrojet – a ribbon of electric current that flows east to west near the equator.

The temperature and wind of the atmosphere are also altered by the cessation of sunlight, and were measured by the rockets. India launched five rockets yesterday to record pre-eclipse data, and then six more were launched today to measure the changes after the eclipse, which peaked at 1:15pm local time. Over 90% of the Sun’s light was blocked near the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), which lies on the southern tip of India, and was well-placed to measure the eclipse.

“Results of these experiments will coordinate ground-based eclipse observations with in situ space measurements. Interpretation of eclipse data together with space data is expected to give new insights to the earlier eclipse observations,” the ISRO wrote in a press release.

Sounding rockets have been used by other space agencies to monitor the ionosphere and the role of the Sun in atmospheric phenomenon. In 1994, NASA cooperated with Brazil on the Guara Campaign, named after the Guara bird that is native to Brazil. In August-October of that year, NASA launched a total of 33 rockets with various experiments to measure the photochemistry and plasma of the atmosphere near the equator. All of the rockets were launched from the Alcantara launch range in Brazil.

Source: ISRO press release