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

Weekly Space Hangout – Sept. 26, 2014: So Wait, Do Black Holes Exist or Not?!?

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:
Morgan Rehnberg (cosmicchatter.org / @cosmic_chatter)
Alessondra Springmann (@sondy)
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
Brian Koberlein (@briankoberlein)
Jason Major (@JPMajor)
Continue reading “Weekly Space Hangout – Sept. 26, 2014: So Wait, Do Black Holes Exist or Not?!?”

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

Who Needs a Deep Space Network? Two Martian Spacecraft Communicate Via Twitter

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft was greeted via Twitter after successfully entering orbit of the Red Planet. The Curiosity Rover, a Mars old-timer of two years, sent a welcoming tweet: “Namaste @MarsOrbiter. Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.”

The @MarsOrbiter replied: “Howdy @MarsCuriosity? Keep in touch. I’ll be around.”

We jest, of course, about using Twitter for space communications. The Deep Space Network provides critical two-way communications between spacecraft and Earth.

The DSN sends information that guides and controls the spacecraft for navigation, and it collects telemetry of the data — images and scientific information — sent back by the spacecraft. NASA is not the only space agency to benefit from the international network of communications facilities that make up the DSN, as spacecraft from around the world use DSN for communications. In fact, MOM is currently sending and receiving telemetry from the DSN, as well as ISRO’s tracking station in Bangalore.

DSN is the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world. It consists of three deep-space communications facilities placed approximately 120 degrees apart on the globe: at Goldstone, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. This strategic placement permits constant observation of spacecraft as the Earth rotates.

MOM now joins seven spacecraft currently operating on Mars surface or in orbit – including the newly arrived MAVEN orbiter, three longtime Mars orbiters: Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and Mars Express (MEX), and two rovers on the surface, Curiosity and Opportunity.

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

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

MAVEN Mars Orbiter Ideally Poised to Uniquely Map Comet Siding Spring Composition – Exclusive Interview with Principal Investigator Bruce Jakosky

MAVEN to conduct up close observations of Comet Siding Spring during Oct. 2014
MAVEN is NASA’s next Mars Orbiter and will investigate how the planet lost most of its atmosphere and water over time. Credit: NASA
Story updated[/caption]

NASA’s MAVEN Mars Orbiter is “ideally” instrumented to uniquely “map the composition of Comet Siding Spring” in great detail when it streaks past the Red Planet during an extremely close flyby on Oct. 19, 2014 – thereby providing a totally “unexpected science opportunity … and a before and after look at Mars atmosphere,” Prof. Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s Principal Investigator of CU-Boulder, CO, told Universe Today in an exclusive interview.

The probes state-of-the-art ultraviolet spectrograph will be the key instrument making the one-of-a-kind compositional observations of this Oort cloud comet making its first passage through the inner solar system on its millions year orbital journey.

“MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) is the ideal way to observe the comet coma and tail,” Jakosky explained.

“The IUVS can do spectroscopy that will allow derivation of compositional information.”

“It will do imaging of the entire coma and tail, allowing mapping of composition.”

Comet: Siding Spring. The images above show -- before and after filtering -- comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, as captured by Wide Field Camera 3 on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.  Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)
Comet: Siding Spring
The images above show — before and after filtering — comet C/2013 A1, also known as Siding Spring, as captured by Wide Field Camera 3 on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Moreover the UV spectrometer is the only one of its kind amongst NASA’s trio of Martian orbiters making its investigations completely unique.

“IUVS is the only ultraviolet spectrometer that will be observing the comet close up, and that gives the detailed compositional information,” Jakosky elaborated

And MAVEN, or the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, is arriving just in the nick of time to fortuitously capture this fantastically rich data set of a pristine remnant from the solar system’s formation.

The spacecraft reaches Mars in less than 15 days. It will rendezvous with the Red Planet on Sept. 21 after a 10 month interplanetary journey from Earth.

Furthermore, since MAVEN’s purpose is the first ever detailed study of Mars upper atmosphere, it will get a before and after look at atmospheric changes.

“We’ll take advantage of this unexpected science opportunity to make observations both of the comet and of the Mars upper atmosphere before and after the comet passage – to look for any changes,” Jakosky stated.

How do MAVEN’s observations compare to NASA’s other orbiters Mars Odyssey (MO) and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), I asked?

“The data from the other orbiters will be complementary to the data from IUVS.”

“Visible light imaging from the other orbiters provides data on the structure of dust in the coma and tail. And infrared imaging provides information on the dust size distribution.”

IUVS is one of MAVENS’s nine science sensors in three instrument suites targeted to study why and exactly when did Mars undergo the radical climatic transformation.

How long will MAVEN make observations of Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring?

“We’ll be using IUVS to look at the comet itself, about 2 days before comet nucleus closest approach.”

“In addition, for about two days before and two days after nucleus closest approach, we’ll be using one of our “canned” sequences to observe the upper atmosphere and solar-wind interactions.”

“This will give us a detailed look at the upper atmosphere both before and after the comet, allowing us to look for differences.”

Describe the risk that Comet Siding Spring poses to MAVEN, and the timing?

“We have the encounter with Comet Siding Spring about 2/3 of the way through the commissioning phase we call transition.”

“We think that the risk to the spacecraft from comet dust is minimal, but we’ll be taking steps to reduce the risk even further so that we can move on toward our science mission.”

“Throughout this entire period, though, spacecraft and instrument health and safety come first.”

This graphic depicts the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as it swings around the sun in 2014. On Oct. 19, 2014 the comet will have a very close pass at Mars. Its nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers).   Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This graphic depicts the orbit of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring as it swings around the sun in 2014. On Oct. 19, 2014 the comet will have a very close pass at Mars. Its nucleus will miss Mars by about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

What’s your overall hope and expectation from the comet encounter?

“Together [with the other orbiters], I’m hoping it will all provide quite a data set!

“From Mars, the comet truly will fill the sky!” Jakosky gushed.

The comet’s nucleus will fly by Mars at a distance of only about 82,000 miles (132,000 kilometers) at 2:28 p.m. ET (18:28 GMT) on Oct. 19, 2014. That’s barely 1/3 the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

What’s the spacecraft status today?

“Everything is on track.”

Maven spacecraft trajectory to Mars. Credit: NASA
Maven spacecraft trajectory to Mars on Sept. 4, 2014. Credit: NASA

The $671 Million MAVEN spacecraft’s goal is to study Mars upper atmosphere to explore how the Red Planet lost most of its atmosphere and water over billions of years and the transition from its ancient, water-covered past, to the cold, dry, dusty world that it has become today.

MAVEN soared to space over nine months ago on Nov. 18, 2013 following a flawless blastoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 atop a powerful Atlas V rocket and thus began a 10 month interplanetary voyage from Earth to the Red Planet.

It is streaking to Mars along with ISRO’s MOM orbiter, which arrives a few days later on September 24, 2014.

So far it has traveled 95% of the distance to the Red Planet, amounting to over 678,070,879 km (421,332,902 mi).

As of Sept. 4, MAVEN was 205,304,736 km (127,570,449 miles) from Earth and 4,705,429 km (2,923,818 mi) from Mars. Its Earth-centered velocity is 27.95 km/s (17.37 mi/s or 62,532 mph) and Sun-centered velocity is 22.29 km/s (13.58 mi/s or 48,892 mph) as it moves on its heliocentric arc around the Sun.

One-way light time from MAVEN to Earth is 11 minutes and 24 seconds.

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

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

Ken Kremer

NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA’s Mars bound MAVEN spacecraft launches atop Atlas V booster at 1:28 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Nov. 18, 2013. Image taken from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. 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
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 launched to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013 from Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To remain healthy and accomplish her science mission ahead, the spacecraft must fire the 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine to brake into orbit around the Red Planet on September 24, 2014 – where she will study the atmosphere and sniff for signals of methane.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The final TCM firing is planned in September 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Kremer

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