The mother of all Indian space designs to date, Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM for now, is shaping up at a feverish pace at the satellite assembly centre here. It has a hit or miss date to keep. The earliest once-in-26-months window of opportunity opens in October.
The Rs. 450-crore mission aims to glean Mars from as close as 372 km from its surface and it would be the first ever to scour its atmosphere and surface for methane there, an official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told The Hindu.
The presence of methane is a telltale sign of life that may have existed on the planet.
Lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 became famous for detecting water particles on the Moon’s soil with the help of a U.S. instrument.
The MOM will establish the country’s technological capability to take up such a long shot some 400 million km away. The journey would be 1,000 times longer than Chandrayaan-1,sent in 2008.
The Mars mission is “India’s next challenging technological mission out of the Earth’s gravitational field,” according to the ISRO.
The orbiter, a 1,350-kg spacecraft, will carry five main payloads or instruments. The ISRO expects to launch it towards October-end or the beginning of November, depending on the weather. That will be the cyclone season.
“As per plans, the satellite is expected to exit the Earth orbit on November 26/27, travel towards Mars over around 300 days. We plan to insert the satellite in an orbit around Mars on September 22, 2014,” the official said.
Soon after the launch, it would be gradually pushed to higher orbits four times when it is made to escape out of the Earth’s pull. It will go round Mars in an elliptical path closest at 372 km and farthest at 80,000 km. It will map the martian terrain and figure out the minerals on the surface, similar to what Chandrayaan-1 did around the Moon for 10 months. (It died prematurely without completing the planned two years.)
A modified PSLV-XL rocket, numbered C-25, similar to the lunar launcher, is also getting ready at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram. The orbiter will take off from the launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
In order not to miss the closest Earth-Mars position coming up next year, the journey “demands a cumulative incremental velocity of 2.592 km/sec,” says ISRO’s newly released annual report 2012-13.