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Orbiter on course to Mars

T.S. Subramanian
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A view of the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Control Centre at ISTRAC, Bangalore, during the Trans-Mars Injection manoeuvre on Sunday.— Photo: ISRO
A view of the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft Control Centre at ISTRAC, Bangalore, during the Trans-Mars Injection manoeuvre on Sunday.— Photo: ISRO

With India’s spacecraft to Mars slung out of its earth-bound orbit in the early hours of December 1 and towards the sun-centric orbit, its 300-day voyage to the Red Planet has begun. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) accomplished this tricky manoeuvre called Trans-Mars Injection (TMI) of the spacecraft by giving commands to the spacecraft’s propulsion system to start firing at 00.49 hours on Sunday. The propulsion system came up with a cameo performance for 23 minutes, imparting the required velocity to the spacecraft. Eight control thrusters on board also erupted into life, aiding the propulsion system, called 440 Newton engine.

“The spacecraft is now on course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun,” said an ISRO statement. The orbiter is now in a hyperbolic orbit and it will escape from the sphere of influence (SOI) of the Earth around 1.15 a.m. on December 4. The SOI extends to about 9.25 lakh km from the Earth.

According to K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO Chairman, the TMI was a “crucial” manoeuvre because the spacecraft needed to be given the exact velocity to push it out of the earth-orbit, make it escape from the SOI of the Earth, then make it coast around the sun for about 300 days and ultimately insert the spacecraft into the Martian orbit on September 24, 2014.

On that day, the propulsion system will be fired again after it has idled for 300 days during its voyage in deep space. This ignition will lower the spacecraft into the Martian orbit.

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