Weekly Space Hangout – March 20, 2015: Lee Billings’ Five Billion Years of Solitude

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)
Special Guest: Author Lee Billings, discussing his book “Five Billion Years of Solitude”(@LeeBillings / leebillings.com/)
Guests:
Dr. Pamela Gay (cosmoquest.org / @starstryder)
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @MorganRehnberg )
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – March 20, 2015: Lee Billings’ Five Billion Years of Solitude”

Stunning View of Solar System’s Largest Volcano and Valles Marineris Revealed by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has delivered another sweet treat – a stunning view of our Solar System’s largest volcano and the largest canyon.

Just days ago, MOM captured a new global image of the Red Planet dominated by Olympus Mons and Valles Marineris – which is the largest known volcano and the largest known canyon in the Solar System, respectively.

Situated right in between lies a vast volcanic plateau holding a trio of huge volcanoes comprising the Tharsis Bulge: Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons, and Ascraeus Mons. All four volcanoes are shield volcanoes.

To give an idea of its enormity, Olympus Mons stands about three times taller than Mount Everest and is about the size of Arizona.

Olympus Mons from Mars orbit compared to the state of Arizona. Credit: NASA
Olympus Mons from Mars orbit compared to the state of Arizona. Credit: NASA

Olympus Mons is located in Mars’ western hemisphere and measures 624 kilometers (374 miles) in diameter, 25 km (16 mi) high, and is rimmed by a 6 km (4 mi) high scarp.

Valles Marineris is often called the “Grand Canyon of Mars.” It spans about as wide as the entire United States.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency which designed and developed the orbiter released the image on Oct. 17, barely two days ahead of the planet’s and spacecrafts’ extremely close encounter with comet Siding Spring.

By the way, a relieved ISRO tweeted MOM’s survival of her close shave with the once-in-a-lifetime cometary passage with gusto, soon after the swingby:

“Phew! Experience of a lifetime. Watched the #MarsComet #SidingSpring whizzing past the planet. I’m in my orbit, safe and sound.”

The new global image was taken by the tri-color camera as MOM swooped around the Red Planet in a highly elliptical orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km, according to ISRO.

To date ISRO has released four global images of the Red Planet, including a 3-D view, reported here.

Olympus Mons, the Tharsis Bulge, and Valles Marineris are near the equator.

Valles Marineris stretches over 4,000 km (2,500 mi) across the Red Planet, is as much as 600 km wide, and measures as much as 7 kilometers (4 mi) deep.

Here’s a comparison view of the region taken by NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter in the 1970s.

Global Mosaic of Mars Centered on Valles Marineris
Global Mosaic of Mars Centered on Valles Marineris from NASA’s Viking 1 orbiter. Credit: NASA

MOM is India’s first deep space voyager to explore beyond the confines of her home planet’s influence and successfully arrived at the Red Planet only one month ago after the “history creating” orbital insertion maneuver on Sept. 23/24 following a ten month journey.

The $73 million MOM mission is expected to last at least six months.

MOM’s success follows closely on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which also successfully achieved orbit barely two days earlier on Sept. 21 and could last 10 years or more.

With MOM’s arrival, India became the newest member of an elite club of only four entities that have launched probes that successfully investigated Mars – following the Soviet Union, the United States, and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74500 km on Sept. 28, 2014.  Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74,500 km on Sept. 28, 2014. Credit: ISRO

Comet Siding Spring: Close Call for Mars, Wake Up Call for Earth?

It was 20 years ago this past July when images of Jupiter being pummeled by a comet caught the world’s attention. Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 had flown too close to Jupiter. It was captured by the giant planet’s gravity and torn into a string of beads. One by one the comet fragments impacted Jupiter — leaving blemishes on its atmosphere, each several times larger than Earth in size.

Until that event, no one had seen a comet impact a planet. Now, Mars will see a very close passage of the comet Siding Spring on October 19th. When the comet was first discovered, astronomers quickly realized that it was heading straight at Mars. In fact, it appeared it was going to be a bulls-eye hit — except for the margin of error in calculating a comet’s trajectory from 1 billion kilometers (620 million miles, 7 AU) away.

It took several months of analysis for a cataclysmic impact on Mars to be ruled out. So now today, Mars faces just a cosmic close shave. But this comet packs enough energy that an impact would have globally altered Mars’ surface and atmosphere.

So what should we Earthlings gather from this and other events like it? Are we next? Why or why not should we be prepared for impacts from these mile wide objects?

For one, ask any dinosaur and you will have your answer.

Adding Siding Spring to the Comet 67P atop Los Angeles provides a rough comparison of sizes. This images was expanded upon U.T.'s Bob King - "What Comets, Parking Lots and Charcoal Have in Common". (Credit: ESA, anosmicovni)
An illustration of the Siding Spring comet in comparison to the Comet 67P atop Los Angeles. The original image was the focus of Bob King’s article – “What Comets, Parking Lots and Charcoal Have in Common“. (Credit: ESA, anosmicovni)

One can say that Mars was spared as were the five orbiting spacecraft from India (Mars Orbiter Mission), the European Union (Mars Express) and the United States (MOD, MRO, MAVEN). We have Scottish-Australian astronomer Robert McNaught to thank for discovering the comet on January 3, 2013, using the half meter (20 inch) Uppsala Southern Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring, Australia.

Initially the margin of error in the trajectory was large, but a series of observations gradually reduced the error. By late summer 2014, Mars was in the clear and astronomers could confidently say the comet would pass close but not impact. Furthermore, as observations accumulated — including estimates of the outpouring of gases and dust — comet Siding Spring shrunk in size, i.e. the estimates of potentially tens of kilometers were down to now 700 meters (4/10th of a mile) in diameter. Estimates of the gas and dust production are low and the size of the tail and coma — the spherical gas cloud surrounding the solid body — are small and only the outer edge of both will interact with Mars’ atmosphere.

The mass, velocity and kinetic energy of celestial bodies can be deceiving. It is useful to compare the Siding Spring comet to common or man-made objects.
The mass, velocity and kinetic energy of celestial bodies can be deceiving. It is useful to compare the Siding Spring comet to common or man-made objects.

Yet, this is a close call for Mars. We could not rule out a collision for over six months. While this comet is small, it is moving relative to Mars at a speed of 200,000 kilometers/hour (125,000 mph, 56 km/sec). This small body packs a wallop. From high school science or intro college Physics, many of us know that the kinetic energy of an object increases by the square of the velocity. Double the velocity and the energy of the object goes up by 4, increase by 3 – energy increases by 9.

So the close shave for Mars is yet another wake up call for the “intelligent” space faring beings of the planet Earth. A wake up call because the close passage of a comet could have just as easily involved Earth. Astronomers would have warned the world of a comet heading straight for us, one that could wipe out 70% of all life as happened 65 million years ago to the dinosaurs. Replace dinosaur with humans and you have the full picture.

Time would have been of the essence. The space faring nations of the world — those of the EU, and Russia, the USA, Japan and others — would have gathered and attempted to conceive some spacecrafts with likely nuclear weapons that could be built and launched within a few months. Probably several vehicles with weapons would be launched at once, leaving Earth as soon as possible. Intercepting a comet or asteroid further out would give the impulse from the explosions more time to push the incoming body away from the Earth.

There is no way that humanity could sit on their collective hands and wait for astronomers to observe and measure for months until they could claim that it would just be a close call for Earth. We could imagine the panic it would cause. Recall the scenes from Carl Sagan’s movie Contact with people of every persuasion expressing at 120 decibels their hopes and fears. Even a small comet or asteroid, only a half kilometer – a third of a mile in diameter would be a cataclysmic event for Mars or Earth.

But yet, in the time that has since transpired from discovery of the comet Siding Spring (1/3/2013), the Chelyabinsk asteroid (~20 m/65 ft) exploded in an air burst that injured 1500 people in Russia. The telescope that discovered Comet Siding Spring was decommissioned in late 2013 and the Southern Near-Earth Object Survey was shutdown. This has left the southern skies without a dedicated telescope for finding near-Earth asteroids. And proposals such as the Sentinel project by the B612 Foundation remain underfunded.

We know of the dangers from small celestial bodies such as comets or asteroids. Government organizations in the United States and groups at the United Nations are discussing plans. There is plenty of time to find and protect the Earth but not necessarily time to waste.

Previous U.T. Siding Spring stories:
What Comets, Parking Lots and Charcoal Have in Common“, Bob King, Sept 5, 2014
MAVEN Mars Orbiter Ideally Poised to Uniquely Map Comet Siding Spring Composition
– Exclusive Interview with Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky”, Ken Kremer“, Sept 5, 2014
NASA Preps for Nail-biting Comet Flyby of Mars“, BoB King, July 26,2014

Glorious Global 3-D Mars from ISRO’s MOM and ESA’s Rosetta

Here’s another breathtakingly glorious view from India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) – her first global 3-D portrait of her new home careening around the Red Planet.

MOM is India’s first deep space voyager to explore beyond the confines of her home planet’s influence and just successfully arrived at the Red Planet after the “history creating” orbital insertion maneuver on Sept. 23/24 following a ten month journey.

This newly released 3-D view from MOM expands upon the initial 2-D global color view of Mars released by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency. See below and detailed in my earlier story – here.

The 3-D image was generated from multiple pictures acquired by MOM’s on-board Mars Color Camera on Sept 28, 2014, from the very high altitude of approximately 74,500 kilometers as the spacecraft orbits Mars.

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74500 km on Sept. 28, 2014.  Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures spectacular portrait of the Red Planet and swirling dust storms with the on-board Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 74,500 km on Sept. 28, 2014. Credit: ISRO

The images were taken by the tri-color camera as MOM swooped around the Red Planet in a highly elliptical orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km, according to ISRO.

Therefore, the 3-D Red Planet portrait was captured nearly at apoapsis. And being three dimensional, it gives a stereo sense of the huge dust storm swirling over a large swath of the planet’s Northern Hemisphere set against the blackness of space.

Below right is the southern polar ice cap. To see the 3-D effect, whip out your handy pair of left-eye red, right-eye blue color anaglyph glasses.

And while we’re on the subject of spacely 3-D, it’s worth noting that another of humanity’s ground breaking probes currently making news – ESA’s comet hunting Rosetta probe – likewise snapped a glorious 3-D view of Mars way back in 2007, during the brief, but critical, gravity assist slingshot maneuver that flung Rosetta along her vast 10 year path through interplanetary space.

So by way of comparison let’s take a trip down memory lane and be sure to look back at Rosetta’s global 3-D Martian views (below) taken by the high resolution OSIRIS camera on 24 February 2007 at 19:28 CET from a distance of about 240,000 kilometers.

Mars 3-D anaglyph (black & white) taken by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during Mars flyby on 24 February 2007 from a distance of about 240 000 km.  Image resolution is about 5 km.  Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA
Mars 3-D anaglyph (black & white) taken by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during Mars flyby on 24 February 2007 from a distance of about 240,000 km. Image resolution is about 5 km. Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA

The Rosetta team created both color and black & white 3-D views of Mars.

Mars 3-D anaglyph (color) taken by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during Mars flyby on 24 February 2007 from a distance of about 240 000 km.  Image resolution is about 5 km.  Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA
Mars 3-D anaglyph (color) taken by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft during Mars flyby on 24 February 2007 from a distance of about 240,000 km. Image resolution is about 5 km. Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA

And be sure to check out Rosetta’s 2-D true color view showing a different swatch of the Red Planet compared to MOM, along with a more expansive view of the southern polar ice cap.

The first true-colour image of Mars from ESA’s Rosetta generated using the OSIRIS orange (red), green and blue colour filters. The image was acquired on 24 February 2007 at 19:28 CET from a distance of about 240 000 km; image resolution is about 5 km/pixel. Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA
The first true-color image of Mars from ESA’s Rosetta generated using the OSIRIS orange (red), green and blue color filters. The image was acquired on 24 February 2007 at 19:28 CET from a distance of about 240,000 km; image resolution is about 5 km/pixel. Credit: MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/ IAA/ RSSD/ INTA/ UPM/ DASP/ IDA

The $73 million MOM mission is expected to last at least six months.

MOM’s success follows closely on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which also successfully achieved orbit barely two days earlier on Sept. 21 and could last 10 years or more.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

ISRO and NASA Ink Deal to Collaborate on Red Planet and Home Planet Science Missions

ISRO and NASA have inked a deal to collaborate on future missions to jointly explore the Red Planet and our Home Planet hot on the heels of ISRO’s wildly successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India’s first ever interplanetary voyager to explore Mars.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), signed an agreement to collaborate on future science missions to explore Mars as well as to build and launch a joint NASA-ISRO mission to observe Earth.

The leaders of NASA and ISRO met in Toronto, Canada on Tuesday, Sept. 30 and “signed two documents to launch a NASA-ISRO satellite mission to observe Earth and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars,” according to a NASA statement.

Bolden and Rao met at the International Astronautical Congress underway in Toronto.

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures the limb of Mars with the Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 8449 km soon after achieving orbit on Sept. 23/24, 2014. . Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures the limb of Mars with the Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 8449 km soon after achieving orbit on Sept. 23/24, 2014. . Credit: ISRO

They signed one agreement defining each agency’s responsibilities for the joint NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, targeted to launch in 2020. NISAR will make global measurements of the causes and consequences of land surface changes.

The second agreement “establishes a NASA-ISRO Mars Working Group to investigate enhanced cooperation between the two countries in Mars exploration.”

“The signing of these two documents reflects the strong commitment NASA and ISRO have to advancing science and improving life on Earth,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in a NASA statement.

“This partnership will yield tangible benefits to both our countries and the world.”

NISAR will be the first Earth observing mission to be equipped two different synthetic aperture radar (SAR) frequencies (L-band and S-band) – one each from NASA and ISRO.

NASA will also provide “the high-rate communication subsystem for science data, GPS receivers, a solid state recorder, and a payload data subsystem.”

ISRO will provide the spacecraft bus and launch vehicle.

The radars will be able to measure subtle changes in Earth’s surface of less than a centimeter across stemming from the flow of glaciers and ice sheets as well as earthquakes and volcanoes.

Regarding Mars, the first subject the joint working group will tackle will be to coordinate observations from each nation’s recently arrived Mars orbiters – ISRO’s MOM and NASA’s MAVEN. They will also examine areas of future collaboration on surface rovers and orbiters.

“NASA and Indian scientists have a long history of collaboration in space science,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA Associate Administrator for Science.

“These new agreements between NASA and ISRO in Earth science and Mars exploration will significantly strengthen our ties and the science that we will be able to produce as a result.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

MAVEN is NASA’s next Mars orbiter and launched on Nov. 18, 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will study the evolution of the Red Planet’s atmosphere and climate. Universe Today visited MAVEN inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center. With solar panels unfurled, this is exactly how MAVEN looks when flying through space and circling Mars and observing Comet Siding Spring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MAVEN is NASA’s next Mars orbiter and launched on Nov. 18, 2014, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will study the evolution of the Red Planet’s atmosphere and climate. Universe Today visited MAVEN inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center. With solar panels unfurled, this is exactly how MAVEN looks when flying through space and circling Mars and observing Comet Siding Spring. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

India’s MOM Snaps Spectacular Portrait of New Home – the Red Planet

MOM is truly something special.

For her latest eye popping feat, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has snapped the first global portrait of her new Home – the Red Planet.

MOM is India’s first interplanetary voyager and took the stupendous new image on Sept. 28, barely four days after her historic arrival on Sept. 23/24 following the successful Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) braking maneuver.

The MOM orbiter was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency, which released the image on Sept. 29.

Even more impressive is that MOM’s Martian portrait shows a dramatic view of a huge dust storm swirling over a large patch of the planet’s Northern Hemisphere against the blackness of space. Luckily, NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity surface rovers are nowhere nearby.

“Something’s brewing here!” ISRO tweeted.

The southern polar ice cap is also clearly visible.

It was taken by the probe’s on-board Mars Color Camera from a very high altitude of 74,500 kilometers.

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures the limb of Mars with the Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 8449 km soon after achieving orbit on Sept. 23/24, 2014. . Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures the limb of Mars with the Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 8449 km soon after achieving orbit on Sept. 23/24, 2014. Credit: ISRO

When MOM met Mars, the thrusters placed the probe into a highly elliptical orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km. The inclination of the orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degrees, as intended, ISRO reported.

So the Red Planet portrait was captured nearly at apoapsis.

This is the third MOM image released by ISRO thus far, and my personal favorite. And its very reminiscent of whole globe Mars shots taken by Hubble.

MOM’s goal is to study Mars’ atmosphere, surface environments, morphology, and mineralogy with a 15 kg (33 lb) suite of five indigenously built science instruments. It will also sniff for methane, a potential marker for biological activity.

The $73 million mission is expected to last at least six months.

MOM’s success follows closely on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which also successfully achieved orbit barely two days earlier on Sept. 21 and could last 10 years or more.

With MOM’s arrival, India became the newest member of an elite club of only four entities who have launched probes that successfully investigated Mars – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

MOM Eyes the Limb of Mars after History Creating Arrival

India’s maiden interplanetary voyager, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has transmitted a breathtaking new image eyeing the limb of Mars and its atmosphere against the blackness of space.

The beautiful Martian image is only MOM’s second since successfully braking into orbit during the ‘history creating’ insertion maneuver days ago on Sept. 23/24.

The MOM orbiter was designed and developed by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency, which released the image on Sept 25, about a day after MOM arrived.

The limb image was taken using MOM’s Mars Color Camera (MCC) from an altitude of 8449 kilometers and shows more of an ‘Orange Planet’ rather than a ‘Red Planet.’

“A shot of Martian atmosphere. I’m getting better at it. No pressure,” tweeted ISRO at MOM’s newly established twitter account after entering orbit.

The image has a spatial resolution of 439 meters and is centered around Lat: 20.01N and Lon:31.54E.

MOM’s goal is to study Mars atmosphere , surface environments, morphology, and mineralogy with a 15 kg (33 lb) suite of five indigenously built science instruments. It will also sniff for methane, a potential marker for biological activity.

“The view is nice up here,” ISRO tweeted.

MOM’s first image taken shortly after orbital arrival showed a heavily cratered region of the Red Planet taken by the MCC tri-color camera from a slightly lower altitude of 7300 kilometers with a spatial resolution of 376 meters.

ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission captures its first image of Mars from a height of 7300 km. Credit: ISRO
ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission captures its first image of Mars from a height of 7300 km. Credit: ISRO

Following MOM’s successful Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) maneuver, India became the newest member of an elite club of only four entities who have launched probes that successfully investigated Mars – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Read my complete MOM meets Mars arrival story – here.

MOM is now circling Mars in a highly elliptical orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km. The inclination of orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degree, as intended, ISRO reports.

The $73 million mission is expected to last at least six months.

MOM’s success follows closely on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which also successfully achieved orbit barely two days earlier on Sept. 21 and could last 10 years or more.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

India’s MOM Captures First Image of the Red Planet

India’s “history creating” maiden interplanetary voyager, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has captured her historic first image of the Red Planet.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency which designed and developed the orbiter released the image today, Sept 25, just a day after MOM successfully arrived at Mars on Sept. 23/24.

Read my complete MOM meets Mars arrival story – here.

The image was taken by the probe’s Mars Colour Camera (MCC), tri color imager, from a height of 7300 kilometers with a spatial resolution of 376 meters and shows a heavily cratered region on the Red Planet.

Following MOM’s successful orbital insertion maneuver, India joined an elite club of only three other entities who have launched probes that successfully investigated Mars – following the Soviet Union, the United States, and the European Space Agency (ESA).

MOM is now circling Mars in a highly elliptical orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km. The inclination of orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degrees, as intended, ISRO reports.

By way of comparison, here’s the first image taken by MOM of the Blue Planet, her Home World.

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

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

History Created as India Dares Unknown and Achieves Near Impossible – MOM Successfully Arrives in Mars Orbit

Artists concept of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully achieving Mars orbit on Sept. 23 EDT/Sept. 24 IST. Credit: ISRO
Story updated[/caption]

Space history was made today when India’s car sized Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully fired its braking rockets and arrived in Mars orbit today (Sept. 23 EST/Sept. 24 IST) on the nation’s first attempt to explore the Red Planet. Indeed MOM is India’s maiden interplanetary voyager and “created history.”

India thereby joins an elite club of only three other entities who have launched probes that successfully investigated Mars – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).

Wild applause erupted with beaming smiles from ear to ear at India’s Bangalore mission control center after signals confirming a successful full duration firing of the crafts engines for 24 minutes and 13 seconds for the crucial Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) maneuver that placed MOM into orbit, were received precisely as planned at 10:30 p.m. EDT (Sept 23) or 8:00 IST (Sept. 24).

Traveling at the speed of light it took nearly 12.5 minutes for the good news signals to arrive on Earth from Mars across the vast expanse of some 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) of interplanetary space.

MOM’s Red Planet arrival was webcast live worldwide by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), India’s space agency which designed and developed the orbiter.

ISRO’s website also gave a play by play in real time, announcing the results of critical spacecraft actions along the arrival timeline just moments after they became known.

“India has successfully reached Mars!” declared Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who watched the events unfold from mission control at ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore.

“History has been created today. We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near-impossible. I congratulate all ISRO scientists as well as all my fellow Indians on this historic occasion.”

Modi gave a stirring and passionate speech to the team, the nation and a global audience outlining the benefits and importance of India’s space program. He implored the team to strive for even greater space exploration challenges, sounding very much like US President John F. Kennedy over 50 years ago!

“We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and imagination,” Modi stated. “We have accurately navigated our spacecraft through a route known to very few. And we have done it from a distance so large that it took even a command signal from Earth to reach it more than it takes sunlight to reach us.”

The do-or-die MOI breaking maneuver slowed MOM’s velocity by 1099 m/s (2457 mph) vs. an expected 1098.7 m/s – using the combined thrust of the 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) main engine and eight smaller 22 newton liquid fueled engines.

The entire MOI maneuver took place fully autonomously under the spacecrafts preprogrammed sole control due to the long communications lag time and also during a partial communications blackout when the probe was traveling behind Mars and the signal was blocked.

MOM’s goal is to study Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and the Martian atmosphere with five indigenous scientific instruments. Among other goals it will sniff for methane as a potential marker for biological activity.

MOM’s success follows closely on the heels of NASA’s MAVEN orbiter which also successfully achieved orbit barely two days earlier on Sept. 21.

Modi noted that more than half of all missions to Mars have failed.

“We have prevailed. We have succeeded on our first attempt. We put together the spacecraft in record time, in a mere three years from first studying its feasibility,” Modi elaborated.

“These are accomplishments that will go down in history. Innovation by its very nature involves risk. It is a leap into the dark .. . and the unknown. Space is indeed the biggest unknown out there.”

“Through your brilliance and hard work [at ISRO] you have made a habit of accomplishing the impossible.”

“The success of our space program is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation. Our space program is an example of achievement which inspires us all .. and future generations … to strive for excellence ourselves.”

“Space technology translates to space applications here on Earth … to improve the life of our citizens.”

“Let us set ourselves even more challenging goals and strive even harder to achieve them. Let us push our boundaries. And then push some more, and push some more!” said Modi jubilantly.

MOM now joins Earth’s newly fortified armada of seven spacecraft currently operating on Mars surface or in orbit – including MAVEN, Mars Odyssey (MO), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter MRO), Mars Express (MEX), Curiosity and Opportunity.

“MOM and MAVEN will keep each other company in orbit,” said Modi.

Today, MOM concluded her over 10 month interplanetary voyage of some 442 million miles (712 million km) from Earth to the Red Planet.

“Congratulations to the MOM team on behalf of the entire MAVEN team! Here’s to exciting science from the two latest missions to join the Mars fleet!”, wrote Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN Principal Investigator, in a post on the ISRO MOM facebook page.

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 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).

The flight path of the approximately $73 Million probe was being continuously monitored by the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) and NASA JPL’s Deep Space Network (DSN) to maintain its course.

“The events related to Mars Orbit Insertion progressed satisfactorily and the spacecraft performance was normal. The Spacecraft is now circling Mars in an orbit whose nearest point to Mars (periapsis) is at 421.7 km and farthest point (apoapsis) at 76,993.6 km. The inclination of orbit with respect to the equatorial plane of Mars is 150 degree, as intended. In this orbit, the spacecraft takes 72 hours 51 minutes 51 seconds to go round the Mars once,” according to an ISRO statement.

MOM is expected to investigate the Red Planet for at least six months.

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 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.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

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

India’s First Mars Mission MOM Meets Mars on Sept. 23/24 – Watch Arrival Live

Its D-Day for MOM! The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is India’s history making first mission to the Red Planet and she arrives today, Sept. 23/24 !

MOM’s goal is to study Mars’ surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and the Martian atmosphere with five indigenous scientific instruments. Among other goals it will sniff for methane.

Depending on your time zone, today’s historic arrival falls on either Sept. 23 (EST) or Sept. 24 (IST).

MOM’s entire future depends on conducting a successful and precise, do-or-die Mars Orbital Insertion (MOI) braking burn just hours from now.

The MOI engine firing is targeted for Sept. 23 at 9:47:32 p.m. EDT and Sept. 24 at 07:17:32 hrs IST.

And you can watch all the action live as it happens via a live webcast from the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) website, India’s space agency which designed and developed MOM for about $69 Million.

ISRO’s live streaming webcast starts on the US East Coast today, Sept. 23, at 9:15 p.m. EDT and in India on Sept. 24 at 6:45 IST: http://www.isro.org/

Here’s another webcast link for MOM’s Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) from ISTRAC, Bangalore: http://webcast.isro.gov.in/

The MOI burn involves firing the probes 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) and eight smaller 22 Newton liquid fueled engines for a duration of about 24 minutes to enter Mars’ orbit.

Confirmation of a successful start to the engine burn could be received back on Earth at about 10 p.m. EDT or 7:30 IST. Confirmation of a successful MOI conclusion could be received by about 10:30 p.m. EDT or 8:00 IST

On Monday, Sept 22, engineers at the Bangalore mission control center verified the performance and readiness of the LAM by conducting the final Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM-4) with a engine burst duration of 3.968 seconds.

“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.

The Indian engineering team has only one chance to get it right, and the entire world is pulling for India. NASA, JPL, and the DSN have sent along extra special good luck wishes in the form of group photos below.

Good luck wishes for MOM from NASA and JPL.  Credit: NASA/ISRO
Good luck wishes for MOM from NASA and JPL. Credit: NASA/ISRO

Everyone is wishing for complete success for the probe which reaches Mars just two days after NASA’s MAVEN orbiter successfully achieved orbit on Sunday night, Sept. 21.

“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 on Monday, Sept. 22.

ISRO reports today that all systems are currently “GO.”

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:

If all goes well, MOM will join Earth’s newly fortified armada of six spacecraft operating on Mars surface or in orbit – MAVEN, Mars Odyssey (MO), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Express (MEX), Curiosity, and Opportunity.

Today, MOM concludes her 10 month interplanetary voyage of some 442 million miles (712 million km) from Earth to the Red Planet.

Good luck MOM!

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

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer