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

India’s First Mars Probe ‘MOM’ Blasts Free of Earth Joining MAVEN in Race to Red Planet

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – India’s first ever Mars probe ‘MOM’ successfully fired its main engine today (Dec. 1), blasting the craft free of the Earth’s sphere of influence forever to begin her nearly yearlong momentous voyage to the Red Planet.

Indian space engineers initiated the 440 Newton liquid fueled engine firing precisely as planned at 00:49 hrs (IST) on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 during a critical nail-biting burn lasting some 22 minutes.

The Trans Mars Insertion (TMI) firing propelled India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) away from Earth forever and placed the spacecraft on course for a rendezvous with the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 – where it will study the atmosphere and sniff for signals of methane.

Sunday’s Mars insertion burn imparted the vehicle with an incremental velocity of 647.96 meters per second (m/sec) consuming 198 kg of fuel.

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

The maneuver dubbed ‘The mother of all slingshots’, enabled MOM to finally achieve escape velocity and catapulted the 1,350 kilogram (2,980 pound) spacecraft on an historic flight streaking towards Mars.

And in a rare but rather delightful coincidence, MOM is not alone on her remarkable Martian sojourn. Following the triumphant engine burn, she now joins NASA’s MAVEN orbiter in a gallant marathon race to the Red Planet.

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

“The Earth orbiting phase of the spacecraft ended,” with this maneuver said ISRO.

MOM is healthy and all systems are functioning normally.

While MOM was cycling Earth, ISRO scientists and engineers activated and tested the probes systems and science payloads.

They also turned the crafts color camera homewards to capture the “First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera,” according to ISRO.

First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft currently orbiting Earth prior to upcoming Trans Mars Insertion. 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 currently orbiting Earth prior to upcoming Trans Mars Insertion. Image is focused on the Indian subcontinent. Credit: ISRO

MOM is nicknamed ‘Mangalyaan’ – which in Hindi means ‘Mars craft.’

MOM’s journey bagen with a picture perfect Nov. 5 liftoff atop India’s highly reliable four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C25 from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota.

The PSLV booster precisely injected MOM into an initial elliptical Earth parking orbit of 247 x 23556 kilometers with an inclination of 19.2 degrees.

PSLV does not have sufficient thrust to send MOM streaking directly to the Red Planet.

Therefore since the flawless launch, the engine has been fired 6 times on November 7, 8, 9, 11, and 16 plus one supplementary maneuver to gradually raise the spacecrafts apogee from 23556 km to 192,874 km.

The most recent orbit raising maneuver occurred on Nov 16, 2013 with a burn time of 243.5 seconds and increased the apogee from 118,642 km to 192,874 km.

Liquid fueled engine fires and successfully propels MOM into Mars Transfer Trajectory on Dec. 1, 2013 and India into interplanetary space !  Credit: ISRO
Liquid fueled engine fires and successfully propels MOM into Mars Transfer Trajectory on Dec. 1, 2013 and India into interplanetary space ! Credit: ISRO

Today’s burn was the final one around Earth and absolutely crucial for setting her on course for Mars.

MOM was the first of two missions dispatched to Mars by Earthlings this November.

Half a world away, NASA’s MAVEN orbiter blasted off on Nov. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida atop an Atlas V booster on a direct path to the Red Planet.

The MOM spacecraft is now on traveling on a heliocentric elliptical trajectory to begin a 300 day long interplanetary voyage of more than 700 Million kilometers (400 Million miles) to the Red Planet.

Along the path to Mars, ISRO plans to conduct a series of Trajectory Correction Maneuvers (TCMs) using MOM’s Attitude and Orbit Control System (AOCS) thrusters to precisely navigate the probe to the point required to achieve orbit around the Red Planet

Following the ten month cruise through space the orbital insertion engine will fire for a do or die burn on September 24, 2014 placing MOM into an 377 km x 80,000 km elliptical orbit around Mars.

MOM will reach Mars vicinity just two days after MAVEN’s arrival on Sept. 22, 2014.

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).

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 MOM’s 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.

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India’s MOM – ‘Mangalyaan’ mission is expected to continue gathering measurements at the Red Planet for at least six months and hopefully much longer.

MAVEN could operate for a decade or longer and is also crucial for relaying images and data collected by NASA’s current and upcoming surface rovers and landers.

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 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

Mother of All Slingshots Set to Hurl India’s MOM Probe to Mars

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – MOM – India’s first ever interplanetary spacecraft – is spending her last day around Mother Earth.

The clock is ticking down relentlessly towards “The mother of all slingshots” – the critical engine firing intended to hurl India’ Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe on her ten month long interplanetary cruise to the Red Planet.

Engineers at the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Mission Operations Complex at Bangalore are now just hours away from sending the commands that will ignite MOMs’ liquid fueled main engine for TMI – the Trans Mars Insertion maneuver that will propel MOM away from Earth forever and place the craft on an elliptical trajectory to the Red Planet.

“Performance assessment of all subsystems of the spacecraft has been completed,” reports ISRO.

The do or die 1351 second burn is slated to begin at 00:49 hrs IST tonight – on Dec. 1 Indian local time.

Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Mission Operations Complex of ISTRAC, at Bangalore, India. Credit: ISRO
Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Mission Operations Complex of ISTRAC, at Bangalore, India. Credit: ISRO

The 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine must fire precisely as planned to inject MOM on target 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.

First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera aboard India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft currently orbiting Earth prior to upcoming Trans Mars Insertion. 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 currently orbiting Earth prior to upcoming Trans Mars Insertion. Image is focused on the Indian subcontinent. Credit: ISRO

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.

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Tonight burn is MOM’s final one around Earth and absolutely crucial for setting her on course for Mars.

If all goes well the $69 million MOM spacecraft reaches the vicinity of Mars on 24 September 2014.

MOM was the first of two Earth missions to Mars launched this November.

NASA’s $671 Million MAVEN orbiter launched as scheduled on Nov. 18, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrives at Mars on Sept. 22, 2014, about two days before MOM.

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 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

Curiosity Mars Rover Back in Action after Power Glitch

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – NASA’s car sized Curiosity Mars rover has resumed full science operations and driving following a six day long halt to research activities due to concerns about an electrical power system glitch, which have now been resolved.

On Nov. 17, engineers noticed a fluctuation in voltage on Curiosity that caused the robots handlers to stop science activities and driving towards mysterious Mount Sharp while they searched for the root cause of the electrical issue.

NASA says that the voltage change did not impact the rovers safety or health and the team was acting out of an abundance of caution while investigating the situation from millions of miles away back on Earth.

“The vehicle’s electrical system has a “floating bus” design feature to tolerate a range of voltage differences between the vehicle’s chassis — its mechanical frame — and the 32-volt power lines that deliver electricity throughout the rover. This protects the rover from electrical shorts,” NASA said in a statement.

Curiosity’s voltage level had been about 11 volts since landing day and had declined to about 4 volts on Nov. 17. The electrical issue did not trigger the rover to enter a safe-mode status.

Curiosity scans the Martian landscape to the distant rim of Gale Crater landing site on Sol 463, November 2013.  Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity scans the Martian landscape to the distant rim of Gale Crater landing site on Sol 463, November 2013. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

Engineers amassed a list of possible causes for the voltage change while suspending science operations and roving across the Martian crater floor where Curiosity landed nearly a year and a half ago in August 2012.

“We made a list of potential causes, and then determined which we could cross off the list, one by one,” said rover electrical engineer Rob Zimmerman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

NASA says that the likely cause is an internal short stemming from the Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG) – the rovers nuclear power source.

RTG’s have been commonly used on many NASA missions that also experienced occasional shorts and that had no long term impact or loss of capability on their flights.

“This type of intermittent short has been seen in similar RTGs, including the one on the Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn for years. The rover electronics are designed to operate at variable power supply voltages, so this is not a major problem,” says Curiosity team member Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS in a mission update.

The voltage level had returned its normal level of 11 volts on its own by Nov. 23, when the team had decided to resume science operations.

So it is possible that the same type of intermittent voltage change could recur in the future.

Meanwhile the rover has resumed her epic trek to Mount Sharp and is expected to arrive at the base of the mountain sometime in mid-2014.

Curiosity Spies Mount Sharp – her primary destination. Curiosity will ascend mysterious Mount Sharp and investigate the sedimentary layers searching for clues to the history and habitability o the Red Planet of billions of years. This mosaic was assembled from Mastcam camera images taken on Sol 352 (Aug 2, 2013). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer
Curiosity Spies Mount Sharp – her primary destination. Curiosity will ascend mysterious Mount Sharp and investigate the sedimentary layers searching for clues to the history and habitability o the Red Planet of billions of years. This mosaic was assembled from Mastcam camera images taken on Sol 352 (Aug 2, 2013). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

This past weekend, the robot delivered additional portions of powdered rock to the CheMin and SAM labs inside the rover. The sample was collected 6 months ago after drilling into a rock nicknamed “Cumberland” and will supplement prior measurements.

Curiosity has already accomplished her primary science goal of discovering a habitable zone at her landing site.

Scientists expect to broaden the region of Martian habitability once the 1 ton robot begins the ascent of Mount Sharp to investigate the sedimentary layers in the lower reaches of the towering 3 mile (5 km) high mountain, that record Mars geologic and climatic history over a time span of billions of years.

Curiosity looks to the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray buttes - her ultimate climbing destination - in this mosaic assembled from of navcam camera images from Sol 465, November 2013.  Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Curiosity looks to the base of Mount Sharp and the Murray buttes – her ultimate climbing destination – in this mosaic assembled from navcam camera images from Sol 465, November 2013. Credit: NASA / JPL / MSSS / Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

And as both of NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Opportunity ascend Martian mountains, they’ll be joined next September 2014 by a pair of new Martian orbiters from the US and India – MAVEN and MOM – that will significantly expand Earth’s invasion force at the Red Planet.

Stay tuned here for continuing Mars rover, 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

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

NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter granted ‘Emergency Exemption’ to Resume Processing during Government Shutdown

Technicians resumed spacecraft preparations for NASA’s MAVEN orbiter today (Oct. 3) aimed towards meeting the hoped for Nov. 18 launch to Mars after receiving an ‘emergency exemption’ from forced furloughs. The Oct. 1 US Government shutdown had stopped all work on MAVEN and various other NASA missions. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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Following a three day period of complete work stoppage due to the US Government Shutdown, technicians late today (Oct. 3) resumed critical launch preparations for NASA’s next mission to Mars, the MAVEN orbiter. And it’s not a moment too soon, because the consequences of a continued suspension would have been absolutely dire for the entire future of Mars exploration!

“We have already restarted spacecraft processing at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) today,” Prof. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s chief scientist told Universe Today in a special new mission update today.

Today, Oct 3, top NASA managers have “determined that MAVEN meets the requirements allowing an emergency exception relative to the Anti-Deficiency Act,” Jakosky told me.

MAVEN had been scheduled to blast off for the Red Planet on Nov.18 atop an Atlas V rocket from the Florida Space Coast until those plans were derailed by the start of the government shutdown that began at midnight, Tuesday (Oct. 1) due to senseless and endless political gridlock in Washington, DC.

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. 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. 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

About 97% of NASA’s workforce had been immediately furloughed on Oct. 1 and ordered not to go to work – along with some 800,000 other Federal employees – when their work was deemed “non-essential” despite maintaining spacecraft valued at tens of billions of dollars.

This left only skeleton crews manning Mission Control’s for dozens and dozens of ongoing space missions and the International Space Station (ISS)

Despite the work hiatus, the team is still hoping to achieve an on time launch or soon thereafter.

“We are working toward being ready to launch on Nov. 18,” Jakosky told me, as MAVEN’s principal Investigator of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“We will continue to work over the next couple of days to identify any changes in our schedule or plans that are necessary to stay on track.”

How realistic is the original Nov. 18 launch date, I asked?

“We think it’s very feasible,” Jakosky responded.

“With our having been shut down for only a few days, we should be back on track toward this date quickly.”

The processing team at KSC lost three days of the nine days of margin in the schedule.

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

Where does the team pick up with work?

“With the facility now back up and running, we more or less pick up right where we left off,” Jakosky explained

“We are reworking the schedule to make sure our activities are integrated together and that people don’t have to be in two places at once.”

Magnetometer science instrument boom juts out from MAVEN solar panel during launch processing inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Magnetometer science instrument boom juts out from MAVEN solar panel during launch processing inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The nominal launch window for NASA’s $650 Million MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission) mission to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere only extends about three weeks until Dec. 7.

And he said the team will do whatever necessary, including overtime, to launch MAVEN to the Red Planet by Dec. 7.

“The team is committed to getting to the launch pad at this opportunity, and is willing to work double shifts and seven days a week if necessary. That plus the existing margin gives us some flexibility. “

Interestingly, the ‘’emergency exemption” was granted because of MAVEN’s additional secondary role as a communications relay for NASA’s intrepid pair of surface rovers – Curiosity and Opportunity – and not because of its primary science mission.

“MAVEN is required as a communications relay in order to be assured of continued communications with the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers,” Jakosky explained.

NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter, chief scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky of CU-Boulder and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. MAVEN launches to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 from Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter, chief scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky of CU-Boulder and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. MAVEN launches to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 from Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Although NASA has two functioning orbiters circling the Red Planet at this moment, they are getting old, are far beyond their original design lifetimes and suffer occasional glitches. And there is no guarantee of continued operation.

“The rovers are presently supported by Mars Odyssey launched in 2001 and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter launched in 2005.”

“Launching MAVEN in 2013 protects the existing assets that are at Mars today,” Jakosky told me.

If Mars Odyssey and/or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter were to fail, then the rovers mission operations would be severely curtailed and could even be terminated prematurely – in a worst case scenario.

And without MAVEN, there would be no point in launching NASA’s planned 2020 rover since there would be no way to transmit the science data back to Earth.

“There is no NASA relay orbiter at Mars planned post-MAVEN,” Jakosky noted.

If MAVEN has to launch later in December 2013 or is forced to be postponed to the next launch window opportunity in 2016, both the communications relay capability and the missions atmospheric science objectives would have been very badly impacted.

“A delay in the launch date by more than a week past the end of the nominal launch period, or a delay of launch to 2016, would require additional fuel to get into orbit.”

“This would have precluded having sufficient fuel for MAVEN to carry out its science mission and to operate as a relay for any significant time,” Jakosky elaborated.

“Our nominal launch period runs from 18 November through 7 December, and we can launch as late as about 15 December without a significant impact on our combined science and relay activities.”

From a purely science standpoint, 2013 is the best time to launch MAVEN to accomplish its science objectives.

“Although the exception for MAVEN is not being done for science reasons, the science of MAVEN clearly will benefit from this action.”

“Launching in 2013 allows us to observe at a good time in the eleven-year solar cycle.”

“MAVENS’s goal is determining the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere and when it was lost, where did all the water go and how and when was it lost,” said Jakosky.

Stay tuned here for continuing MAVEN and government shutdown updates.

And watch for my articles about critical operations related to LADEE on Oct 6 and JUNO on Oct. 9. The government shutdown negatively impacts these missions and others as well.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, LADEE, the Gov’t shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 8: “NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”& “Curiosity and MAVEN updates”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Government Shutdown Stops MAVEN Work; Threatens NASA Mars Launch!

The upcoming Nov. 18 blastoff of NASA’s new MAVEN Mars orbiter is threatened by today’s US Federal Government shutdown. Launch processing work has now ceased! Spacecraft preps had been in full swing when MAVEN was unveiled to the media, including Universe Today, inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. With solar panels unfurled, this is exactly how MAVEN looks when flying through interplanetary space and orbiting Mars.
Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com[/caption]

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – The upcoming Nov. 18 blastoff of NASA’s next mission to Mars – the “breathtakingly beautiful” MAVEN orbiter – is threatened by today’s (Oct. 1) shutdown of the US Federal Government. And the team is very “concerned”, although not yet “panicked.”

MAVEN’s on time launch is endangered by the endless political infighting in Washington DC. And the bitter gridlock could cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars or more on this mission alone!

Why? Because launch preparations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) have ceased today when workers were ordered to stay home, said the missions top scientist in an exclusive to Universe Today.

“MAVEN is shut down right now!” Prof. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal Investigator, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, told Universe Today in an exclusive post shutdown update today.

“Which means that civil servants and work at government facilities [including KSC] have been undergoing an orderly shutdown,” Jakosky told me.

The nominal interplanetary launch window for NASA’s $650 Million MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission) mission to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere only extends about three weeks until Dec. 7.

If MAVEN misses the window of opportunity this year, liftoff atop the Atlas V rocket would have to be postponed until early 2016 because the Earth and Mars only align favorably for launches every 26 months.

Any launch delay could potentially add upwards of tens to hundreds of millions of dollars in unbudgeted costs to maintain the spacecraft and rocket – and that’s money that NASA absolutely does not have in these fiscally austere times.

MAVEN spacecraft preps for Nov. 18 launch to Mars were on schedule when it was unveiled to the media inside the cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. The Oct. 1 US Government shutdown has stopped all work. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MAVEN spacecraft preps for Nov. 18 launch to Mars were on schedule when it was unveiled to the media inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. The Oct. 1 US Government shutdown has stopped all work. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

MAVEN and much of NASA are not considered “essential” – despite having responsibility for hundreds of ongoing mission operations costing tens of billions of dollars that benefit society here on Earth. So about 97% of NASA employees were furloughed today.

What’s happening with the spacecraft right now?

“The hardware is being safed, meaning that it will be put into a known, stable, and safe state,” Jakosky elaborated.

Team members say there are about nine days of margin built into the processing schedule, which still includes fueling the spacecraft.

“We’ll turn back on when told that we can. We have some margin days built into our schedule,” Jakosky told me.

“We’re just inside of 7 weeks to launch, and every day is precious, so we’re certainly as anxious as possible to get back to work as quickly as possible.

And he said the team will do whatever necessary, including overtime, to launch MAVEN to the Red Planet by Dec. 7.

“The team is committed to getting to the launch pad at this opportunity, and is willing to work double shifts and seven days a week if necessary. That plus the existing margin gives us some flexibility. “

“That’s why I’m concerned but not yet panicked at this point.”

But a lengthy delay would by problematical.

“If we’re shut down for a week or more, the situation gets much more serious,” Jakosky stated.

Until today, all of the spacecraft and launch preparations had been in full swing and on target – since it arrived on Aug. 2 after a cross country flight from the Colorado assembly facility of prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Indeed it was all smiles and thumbs up when I was privileged to personally inspect MAVEN inside the clean room at KSC a few days ago on Friday, Sept 27 during a media photo opportunity day held for fellow journalists.

Until now, “MAVEN was on schedule and under budget” said Jakosky in an interview as we stood a few feet from the nearly fully assembled spacecraft.

See my MAVEN clean room photos herein.

NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter, chief scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky of CU-Boulder and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inside the cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Center on sept 27, 2013. MAVEN launches to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 from Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter, chief scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky of CU-Boulder and Ken Kremer of Universe Today inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on sept 27, 2013. MAVEN was due to launch to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 from Florida – before the Oct. 1 government shutdown derailed plans. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

And in an ultra rare viewing opportunity, the solar panels were fully unfurled.

“The solar panels look exactly as they will be when MAVEN is flying in space and around Mars.”

“To be here with MAVEN is breathtaking,” Jakosky told me. “

“Its laid out in a way that was spectacular to see!”

Magnetometer science instrument juts out from MAVEN solar panel during launch processing inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Magnetometer science instrument juts out from MAVEN solar panel during launch processing inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

If absolutely necessary it might be possible to extend the launch window a little bit beyond Dec. 7, but its uncertain and would require precise new calculations of fuel margins.

“The nominal 20-day launch period doesn’t take into account the fact that our actual mass is less than the maximum allowable mass,” Jakosky explained.

“The last day we can launch has some uncertainty, because it also requires enough fuel to get into orbit before our mission would begin to be degraded.”

MAVEN team members, including chief scientist Bruce Jakosky (2nd from left)  pose with spacecraft inside the cleanroom at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
MAVEN team members, including chief scientist Bruce Jakosky (2nd from left) pose with spacecraft inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center on Sept. 27, 2013. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It sure was breathtaking for me and all the media to stand beside America’s next Mission to Mars. And to contemplate it’s never before attempted science purpose.

“MAVENS’s goal is determining the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere and when it was lost, where did all the water go and how and when was it lost,” said Jakosky.

That’s the key to understanding when and for how long Mars was much more Earth-like compared to today’s desiccated Red Planet.

Following a 10 month interplanetary voyage, MAVEN would fire thrusters and brake into Mars orbit in September 2014, joining NASA’s Red Planet armada comprising Curiosity, Opportunity, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Lets all hope and pray for a short government shutdown – but the outlook is not promising at this time.

Stay tuned.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about MAVEN, Curiosity, Mars rovers, Cygnus, Antares, SpaceX, Orion, LADEE, the Govt shutdown and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

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

Oct 8: NASA’s Historic LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 8 PM

Haiku for Mars: Winners Selected for MAVEN Mission

Fans of Mars and spaceflight waxed poetic as the haiku selected to travel to Mars aboard the MAVEN spacecraft were announced earlier this month.

The contest received 12,530 valid entries from May 1st through the contest cutoff date of July 1st. Students learned about Mars, planetary exploration and the MAVEN mission as they composed haiku ranging from the personal to the insightful to the hilarious.

“The contest has resonated with people in ways that I never imagined! Both new and accomplished poets wrote poetry to reflect their views of Earth and Mars, their feelings about space exploration, their loss of loved ones who have passed on, and their sense of humor,” said Stephanie Renfrow, MAVEN Education & Public Outreach & Going to Mars campaign lead.

A total of 39,100 votes were cast in the contest; all entries receiving more than 2 votes (1,100 in all) will be carried on a DVD affixed to the MAVEN spacecraft bound for Martian orbit.

Five poems received more than a thousand votes. Among these were such notables as that of one 8th grader from Denver Colorado, who wrote;

                Phobos & Deimos

                          Moons orbiting around Mars

                                       Snared by Gravity

Another notable entry which was among the poems sited for special recognition by the MAVEN team was that of Allison Swets of Michigan;

                 My body can’t walk

                            My mouth can’t make words but I

                                         Soar to Mars today

377 artwork entries were also selected to fly aboard MAVEN as well.

Didn’t get picked? There’s still time to send your name aboard MAVEN along with thousands that have already been submitted. You’ve got until September 10!

Part of NASA’s discontinued Scout-class of missions, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission, or MAVEN, is due to launch out of Cape Canaveral on November 18th, 2013. Selected in 2008, MAVEN has a target cost of less than $500 million dollars US, not including launch carrier services atop an Atlas V rocket in a 401 flight configuration.

(Credit: NASA).
An artist’s concept of MAVEN in orbit around Mars (Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center).

The Phoenix Lander was another notable Scout-class mission that was extremely successful, concluding in 2008.

Principal investigator for MAVEN is the University of Boulder at Colorado’s Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP).

The use of poetry to gain public interest in the mission is appropriate, as MAVEN seeks to solve the riddle that is the Martian atmosphere. How did Mars lose its atmosphere over time? What role does the solar wind play in stripping it away? And what is the possible source of that anomalous methane detected by Mars Global Surveyor from 1999 to 2004?

MAVEN is based on the design of the Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. It will carrying an armada of instruments, including a Neutral Gas & Ion Mass Spectrometer, a Particle and Field Package with several analyzers, and a Remote Sensing Package built by LASP.

MAVEN just arrived at the Kennedy Space Center earlier this month for launch processing and mating to its launch vehicle. Launch will be out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 18th with a 2 hour window starting at 1:47 PM EST/ 18:47 UT.

MAVEN spacecraft at a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver, Colo. (Credit: Lockheed Martin).
MAVEN spacecraft at a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver, Colo. (Credit: Lockheed Martin).

Assuming that MAVEN launches at the beginning of its 20 day window, it will reach Mars for an orbital insertion on September 22, 2014. MAVEN will orbit the Red Planet in an elliptical 150 kilometre by 6,200 kilometre orbit, joining the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the European Space Agencies’ Mars Express and the aging Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been surveying Mars since 2001.

The window for an optimal launch to Mars using a minimal amount of fuel opens every 24 to 26 months. During the last window of opportunity in 2011, the successful Mars Curiosity rover and the ill-fated Russian mission Phobos-Grunt sought to make the trip.

This time around, MAVEN will be joined by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, launching from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on October 21st. If successful, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will join Russia, ESA & NASA in nations that have successfully launched missions to Mars.

This window comes approximately six months before Martian opposition, which next occurs on April 8th, 2014. In 2016, ESA’s ExoMars Mars Orbiter and NASA’s InSight Lander will head to Mars. And 2018 may see the joint ESA/NASA ExoMars rover and… if we’re lucky, Dennis Tito’s proposed crewed Mars 2018 flyby.

Interestingly, MAVEN also arrives in Martian orbit just a month before the close 123,000 kilometre passage of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, although as of this time, there’s no word if it will carry out any observations of the comet.

These launches will also represent the first planetary missions to depart Earth since 2011. You can follow the mission as @MAVEN2Mars on Twitter. We’ll also be attending the MAVEN Conference and Workshop this weekend in Boulder and tweeting our adventures (wi-fi willing) as @Astroguyz. We also plan on attending the November launch in person as well!

And in the end, it was perhaps for the good of all mankind that our own rule-breaking (but pithy) Mars haiku didn’t get selected:

                        Rider of the Martian Atmosphere

                                  Taunting Bradbury’s golden-bee armed  Martians 

                                       While dodging the Great Galactic Ghoul

Hey, never let it be said that science writers make great poets!