Spacecraft, weighing 1,350 kg, is about the size of a large hatchback car

India’s very own Mars excursion — a journey of over 385 million km — is just over a month away as the Indian Space Research Organisation prepares to launch the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft between October 21 and November 19 from Sriharikota.

The MOM spacecraft carries five instruments or payloads to study as many aspects of Mars, including the detection of methane in its atmosphere.

Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC) here S.K. Shivakumar said at a news conference on Wednesday that the spacecraft and its support elements were completed within a year — a very short period — of its approval.

“Things are in final shape. All tests for achieving this and everything that’s required have been done. The ground station network is upgraded and the reception centre reconfigured. We are pretty confident that the PSLV takes this satellite to the right orbit.”

Programme Director M. Annadurai and Project Director S. Arunan said the spacecraft would be shipped to Sriharikota’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre on September 27, a day after the pre-shipment review and a national committee review on September 19.

Mr. Arunan said non-readiness of the larger GSLV had forced India to use a light-lift, low-cost rocket such as the liquid-engine-powered PSLV for propulsion.

As a result, the spacecraft will take over 20 days to get on to the path to Mars and require six orbit boosts whereas other Mars missions take just a day.

As communication with the spacecraft takes 20 minutes each way, it has many components of in-built autonomy to correct itself. The ISRO has developed its own navigation software.

Asked if this costly “me-too” mission would not merely be a duplication of other Mars probes, Dr. Shivakumar said the new instruments were technological gains and India would also benefit from its own experience and perspectives on Mars.

NASA sending mission

National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA) would provide support to the ground-segment operations from the Deep Space Network.About the same time the Indian spacecraft takes off, NASA too will send up its MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission) mission to Mars. But the two will work independently, Dr. Shivakumar said.

“MAVEN is scheduled to leave on November 18 and reach the red planet two days ahead of ours, by September 22 next year. MOM will have an elliptical orbit of 375 km x 80,000 km; MAVEN will take a very close look at its subject from about 50-75 km.”

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