India’s MOM Mars Probe Images Earth’s Children Prior to Nail Biting Red Planet Insertion

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – MOM is looking at you, kid!

And if the spectacular new image of billions of Earth’s children captured by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is any indication (see above), then we can expect absolutely gorgeous scenes of the Red Planet once the groundbreaking probe arrives there in September 2014.

But despite all that’s been accomplished so far, the space drama is still in its infant stages – because MOM still needs to ignite her thrusters this weekend in order to achieve escape velocity, wave good bye to Earth forever and eventually say hello to Mars!

The picture – snapped from Earth orbit – is focused on the Indian subcontinent, the probes origin.

MOM has captured the imagination of space enthusiasts worldwide.

And she’s the pride of all India – as the country’s first ever interplanetary space mission.

During testing of the MOM probes payloads – while it’s still flying in a highly elliptical orbit around our Home Planet – engineers from India’s space agency turned the crafts camera homewards to capture the “First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera,” according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

The beautiful image was taken on Nov. 20 at around 1350 hrs (IST) from a height of almost 70,000 km above earth and has a spatial resolution of 3.5 km, said ISRO.

The image also gives a rather good approximation of what MOM’s color camera will actually see from apoapsis after reaching the Red Planet since the probe will enter a similarly highly elliptical orbit around Mars – ranging in altitude from 366 kilometers (km) x 80,000 kilometers (km).

MOM has just passed by its penultimate perigee.  With this, the final orbit of MOM around Earth begins! Credit: ISRO
MOM has just passed by its penultimate perigee. With this, the final orbit of MOM around Earth begins! Credit: ISRO

Following a 10 month interplanetary cruise, MOM is due to arrive in the vicinity of Mars on September 24, 2014 to study the Red Planets’ atmosphere.

At that time, the 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine must fire precisely as planned during the absolutely essential Mars orbital insertion burn to place the probe into orbit about Mars.

But before MOM can accomplish anything at Mars, she must first successfully fire her main engine – to complete the crucial departure from Earth and Trans Mars Insertion (TMI) scheduled for this Saturday!

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.

Since then the engine has fired 6 times to gradually raise the spacecrafts apogee.

The most recent orbit raising maneuver occurred at 01:27 hrs (IST) on Nov 16, 2013 with a burn time of 243.5 seconds increased the apogee from 118,642 km to 192,874 km.

The nail-biting final main engine burn of 1351 seconds is set for this weekend on Dec. 1. It will place MOM on a precise interplanetary trajectory to the Red Planet.

Graphic of MOM approaching its penultimate perigee pass on Nov 26. Credit: ISRO
Graphic of MOM approaching its penultimate perigee pass on Nov 26. Credit: ISRO

If all continues to 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 that flawlessly blasted off for the Red Planet this November.

Half a world away, NASA’s $671 Million MAVEN orbiter launched as scheduled 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.

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

Stay tuned here for continuing MOM and MAVEN news and Ken’s MAVEN and SpaceX Falcon 9 launch reports from on site at the Kennedy Space Center press center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

Ken Kremer

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

Nov 28: “SpaceX launch, MAVEN & MOM Mars Launches and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

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

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

MAVEN Takes Final Test Spins, Flexes Solar Panels Before Imminent Trek to Florida Launch Site

The solar panels on NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter are deployed as part of environmental testing procedures at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, before shipment to Florida on Aug. 2 and blastoff for Mars on Nov. 18, 2013. Credit: Lockheed Martin
Watch cool testing videos below![/caption]

MAVEN is NASA’s next mission to Mars and in less than three days time the spacecraft ships out on a cross country trek for the first step on the long sojourn to the Red Planet.

But before all that, technicians took MAVEN for a final spin test, flexed her solar arrays and bombarded her with sound and a whole lot more.

On Aug. 2, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission) journeys half a continent from its assembly facility at Lockheed Martin in Littleton, Colorado to the Kennedy Space Center and the Florida Space Coast aboard a USAF C-17.

Unlike Curiosity, which is roving across a crater floor on the Red Planet at this very moment, MAVEN is an orbiter with a first of its kind mission.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft from Earth devoted to investigating and understanding the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The goal is determining how and why Mars lost virtually all of its atmosphere billions of years ago, what effect that had on the climate and where did the atmosphere and water go?

To ensure that MAVEN is ready for launch, technicians have been busy this year with final tests of the integrated spacecraft.

Check out this video of MAVEN’s Dry Spin Balance Test

The spin balance test was conducted on the unfueled spacecraft on July 9, 2013 at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado.

NASA says the purpose of the test “is to ensure that the fully integrated spacecraft is correctly balanced and to determine the current center of gravity. It allows the engineering team to fine-tune any necessary weight adjustments to precisely fix the center of gravity where they want it, so that it will perform as expected during the cruise to Mars.”

It was the last test to be completed on the integrated spacecraft before its shipment to Florida later this week.

This next video shows deployment tests of the two “gull-wing” solar panels at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.

Wingtip to wingtip, MAVEN measures 11.43 m (37.5 feet) in length.

In mid May, MAVEN was moved into a Thermal Vacuum Chamber at Lockheed Martin for 19 days of testing.


The TVAC test exposed MAVEN to the utterly harsh temperatures and rigors of space similar to those it will experience during its launch, cruise, and mission at Mars.

MAVEN is slated to blast off atop an Atlas V-401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on Nov. 18, 2013. The 2000 pound (900 kg) spacecraft will be housed inside a 4 meter payload fairing.

After a 10 month interplanetary voyage it will join NASA’s armada of four robotic spacecraft when it arrives in Mars orbit in September 2014.

Scientists hope that measurements from MAVEN will help answer critical questions like whether, when and how long the Martian atmosphere was once substantial enough to sustain liquid water on its surface and support life.

“What we’re doing is measuring the composition of the atmosphere as a measure of latitude, longitude, time of day and solar activities,” said Paul Mahaffy, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, and the principal investigator for MAVEN’s mass spectrometer instrument.

“We’re trying to understand over billions of years how the atmosphere has been lost.”

Ken Kremer

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Learn more about MAVEN, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations

Aug 12: “RockSat-X Suborbital Launch, LADEE Lunar & Antares Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter is due to blast off for Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 atop an Atlas V rocket similar to this which launched Curiosity from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 26, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s MAVEN orbiter is due to blast off for Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 atop an Atlas V rocket similar to this which launched Curiosity from Cape Canaveral on Nov. 26, 2011. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

What Is Mars Atmosphere Made Of

What is Mars Atmosphere Made Of

[/caption]I think that one of the most interesting questions that have been posed of late is ‘what is Mar’s atmosphere made of?’ There has been a great deal of study done on this topic and interest is increasing since the discovery of methane, a possible indicator of life.

The atmosphere of Mars is over 95% carbon dioxide, 95.32% to be exact. The breakdown of gases goes like this:

  • Carbon dioxide 95.32%
  • Nitrogen 2.7%
  • Argon 1.6%
  • Oxygen 0.13%
  • Carbon monoxide 0.07%
  • Water vapor 0.03%
  • Nitric oxide .0013%
  • Trace gases(including krypton, methane, etc)
  • The Martian atmosphere has four main layers: lower, middle, upper, and exosphere. The lower atmosphere is a warm region(around 210 K). It is warmed by airborne dust(1.5 micrometers across) and heat radiated from the surface. This airborne dust gives the planet its ruddy brown appearance. The middle atmosphere is features a jetstream similar to Earth’s. The upper atmosphere is heated by the solar wind and the temperatures are much higher than at the surface. This heat separates the gases. The exosphere starts at about 200 km and has no clear end. It just tapers off into space.

    The carbon dioxide in the atmosphere freezes for part of the year and may drop to the surface. As much as 25% of the atmospheric carbon dioxide condenses at the polar caps into solid ice(dry ice) because the Martian poles are not exposed to sunlight during the planet’s winter. When the poles are again exposed to sunlight, the ice returns to its gas form and rises back into the atmosphere. So, a significant annual variation in the atmospheric pressure and atmospheric composition around the Martian poles.

    The methane mentioned earlier is used to show the possibility of life on Mars. While it is a byproduct of life, it is also a result of volcanism, geothermal process, and hydrothermal activity. Methane is an unstable gas, so there has to be a source on the planet that is constantly replenishing it. It has to be a very active source, because studies have shown that the methane is destroyed in less than on Earth year. It is thought that peroxides and perchlorates in the soil or that it condenses and evaporates seasonally from clathrates.

    Now you answer ‘ what is Mar’s atmosphere made of?’ the next time it comes up. You can be sure that the methane component will continue to be studied by rovers, orbiters, and, in the future, astronauts.

    We have written many articles about the atmosphere of Mars for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the air on Mars, and here’s an article about Mars’ comparison with Earth.

    If you’d like more info on Mars, check out Hubblesite’s News Releases about Mars, and here’s a link to the NASA Mars Exploration home page.

    We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about Mars. Listen here, Episode 52: Mars.

    Reference:
    NASA Mars Fact Sheet