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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The second TCM was just successfully performed on June 11 by firing the spacecraft’s 22 Newton thrusters for a duration of 16 seconds. TCM-1 was conducted on December 11, 2013 by firing the 22 Newton Thrusters for 40.5 seconds. Two additional TCM firings are planned in August and September 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both MAVEN and MOM’s goal is to study the Martian atmosphere, unlock the mysteries of its current atmosphere and determine how, why and when the atmosphere and liquid water was lost – and how this transformed Mars climate into its cold, desiccated state of today.

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

Although they were developed independently and have different suites of scientific instruments, the MAVEN and MOM science teams will “work together” to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere and climate history, MAVEN’s top scientist told Universe Today.

“We have had some discussions with their science team, and there are some overlapping objectives,” Bruce Jakosky told me. Jakosky is MAVEN’s principal Investigator from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“At the point where we [MAVEN and MOM] are both in orbit collecting data we do plan to collaborate and work together with the data jointly,” Jakosky said.

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

Ken Kremer

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

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

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

Cold Plasma Flourishes In Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

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Thousands of miles above Earth, space weather rules. Here storms of high-energy particles mix the atmosphere, create auroras, challenge satellites and even cause disturbances with electric grids and electronic devices below. It’s a seemingly empty and lonely place – one where a mystery called “cold plasma” has been found in abundance and may well have implications with our connection to the Sun. While it has remained virtually hidden, Swedish researchers have created a new method to measure these cold, charged ions. With evidence of more there than once thought, these new findings may very well give us clues as to what’s happening around other planets and their natural satellites.

“The more you look for low-energy ions, the more you find,” said Mats Andre, a professor of space physics at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Uppsala, Sweden, and leader of the research team whose findings have been accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union. “We didn’t know how much was out there. It’s more than even I thought.”

Where does this enigma originate? The low-energy ions begin in the upper portion of our atmosphere called the ionosphere. Here solar energy can strip electrons from molecules, leaving atoms such as oxygen and hydrogen with a positive charge. However, physically finding these ions has been problematic. While researchers knew they existed at altitudes of about 100 kilometers (60 miles), Andre and colleague Chris Cully set their sites higher – at between 20,000 and 100,000 km (12,400 to 60,000 mi). At the edge, the amount of cold ions varies between 50 to 70%… making up most of the mass of space.

However, that’s not the only place cold plasma has been found. According to the research satellite data and calculations, certain high-altitude zones harbor low-energy ions continuously. As far fetched as it may sound, the team has also detected them at altitudes of 100,000 km! According to Andre, discovering so many relatively cool ions in these regions is surprising because there’s so much energy hitting the Earth’s high altitudes from the solar wind – a hot plasma about 1,000 times hotter than what Andre considers cold. Just how cold? “The low-energy ions have an energy that would correspond to about 500,000 degrees Celsius (about one million degrees Fahrenheit) at typical gas densities found on Earth. But because the density of the ions in space is so low, satellites and spacecraft can orbit without bursting into flames.”

A scientist examines one of the European Space Agency's four Cluster satellites, used in a recent Geophysical Research Letters study to measure low-energy ions. (Credit: European Space Agency)

Pinpointing these low-energy ions and measuring how much material is leaving our atmosphere has been an elusive task. Andre’s workshop is a satellite and one of the four European Space Agency CLUSTER spacecraft. It houses a detector created from a fine wire that measures the electronic field between them during satellite rotation. However, when the data was collected, the researchers found a pair of mysteries – strong electric fields in unexpected areas of space and electric fields that didn’t fluctuate evenly.

“To a scientist, it looked pretty ugly,” Andre said. “We tried to figure out what was wrong with the instrument. Then we realized there’s nothing wrong with the instrument.” What they found opened their eyes. Cold plasma was changing the arrangement of the electrical fields surrounding the satellite. This made them realize they could utilize their field measurements to validate the presence of cold plasma. “It’s a clever way of turning the limitations of a spacecraft-based detector into assets,” said Thomas Moore, senior project scientist for NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He was not involved in the new research.

Through these new techniques, science can measure and map Earth’s cold plasma envelope – and learn more about how both hot and cold plasma change during extreme space weather conditions. This research points towards a better understanding of atmospheres other than our own, too. Currently the new measurements show about a kilogram (two pounds) of cold plasma escapes from Earth’s atmosphere every second, By having a solid figure as a basis for rate of loss, scientists may be able model what became of Mars’ atmosphere – or explain the atmosphere around other planets and moons. It can also aid in more accurate space weather forecasting – even if it doesn’t directly influence the environment itself. It is a key player, even if it doesn’t cause the damage itself. “You may want to know where the low-pressure area is, to predict a storm,” Andre noted.

Modernizing space weather forecasting to where it is similar to ordinary weather forecasting, was “not even remotely possible if you’re missing most of your plasma,” Moore, with NASA, said. Now, with a way to measure cold plasma, the goal of high-quality forecasts is one step closer. “It is stuff we couldn’t see and couldn’t detect, and then suddenly we could measure it,” Moore said of the low-energy ions. “Now you can actually study it and see if it agrees with the theories.”

Original Story Source: American Geophysical Union News Release. For Further Reading: Low-energy ions: A previously hidden solar system particle population.