India’s spacecraft to Mars today completed half the distance of its epic voyage to the Red Planet. At 9.50 a.m. on Wednesday, the Mars Orbiter sailed past 34 crore km while the entire distance it has to cover on its curved path is 68 crore km. In other words, it has covered half the “road distance” in deep space towards its destination.

“This is a major milestone after our Mars spacecraft got out of the sphere of the influence of the Earth on December 4, 2013,” said K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). “The spacecraft is on course towards Mars and is in good health,” he said.

Dr. Radhakrishnan added: “The trajectory we have put the spacecraft in is looking to be good that we are not doing the Trajectory Correction Manoeuvre (TCM) scheduled for April. It means we have an understanding of the forces, such as the Sun and the planets, acting on the spacecraft. So the calculations we have done have proved to be all right. We are learning every day from the way we are managing the operations” related to the spacecraft.

On November 5, 2013, ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) put the Mars orbiter into its earth-orbit. On December 1, Mission Controllers fired the spacecraft’s propulsion system called 440 Newton engine, the spacecraft was bolted out its earth-orbit and put into a Sun-centric orbit. On December 4, it got out of the sphere of influence (SOI) of the Earth and was truly on its way to Mars.

ISRO has been continuously monitoring the Mars spacecraft using its Deep Space Network station at Byalalu village, near Bangalore, which is complemented by that of NASA-Jet Propulsion Laboratory, USA. Periodic tests are being done on the autonomy built into the orbiter, which (autonomy) enables it to take its own decisions for managing emergencies.

At present, the radio distance between the spacecraft and the Earth is 39 million km. A signal from the Earth to the spacecraft and back to the Earth takes about four minutes and 15 seconds.

According to A.S. Kiran Kumar, Director, Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad, the Mars spacecraft is now speeding in deep space at seven lakh km a day.

The SAC built three out of the five instruments on board the orbiter to study the Mars’ atmosphere, mineralogy, presence of methane etc. Dr. Kiran Kumar added: “The next major operation will be in June when we will do the TCM again (that is, the spacecraft’s propulsion system will be fired to correct its trajectory). The TCM slated for April is not being done because there is no need for it. Things are going on smoothly. There will be three more TCMs, one each in June, August and September. The crucial day is on September 24 when the spacecraft will be injected into the Martian orbit.”

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