The Mars Orbiter Mission story

Imran Khan has directed a short movie on the Mars Orbiter Mission and is now available on YouTube (trailer).

The video helped me relive September 24, 2014 again. On that day, I watched Mars Orbit Insertion from Mumbai while my fiance (and now my wife) watched with her sister in Kerala. On that day, she didn’t understand the importance of the crucial Mars Orbit Mission maneuver. But, she got it only today after watching the video with me today.

Must watch whether you follow space and definitely if you have a partner with whom you want to communicate the enthusiasm for space exploration.

Public Talk by Dr Seetha

Last Saturday I was at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai’s Sky Theatre listening to a talk by ISRO’s Dr Seetha. She was working with the Mars Orbiter Mission and from my understanding on the Mars Colour Camera project. She is also a principal investigator on the Astrosat Project.

Image: Dr. Seetha giving her talk at Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas, released under a CC-BY license.


Nehru Planetarium director Arvind Paranjpaye introduced Dr. Seetha who comes from a background in astronomy and who was working on the instrumentation of telescopes at the Kavalur Observatory. She moved to ISRO once it began the Planetary Sciences Division at PRL, Ahmedabad. She was among a group of scientists who moved from astronomy to space division within ISRO, a fact that was thus far unbeknownst to me.

She spoke of some of the challenges faced by the ISRO team whilst putting together the Mars mission – the usual facts about the need for the longer coast phase for the PSLV, the need for additional ocean based terminals provided for by the Shipping Corporation of India, the re-starting of engines and of-course the Mars Orbiter insertion. She spoke of how the once in 26 month opening comes for a mission to Mars works and also answered specific questions on spacecraft instrumentation redundancy and radiation and thermal shielding. There were a few request for apps. She said the spacecraft may have enough fuel now to do a 1 year mission even though though it was designed for a 6 month mission thanks to the inserted orbit. She asked the audience to follow the mission via Facebook and Twitter for more exciting picture releases and perhaps even a few science results from the other instruments.

I hope ISRO does send more of its scientists to talk to the public in gigs such as this. She said she understood that there was public was restless about the speed at which the pics were getting released via Facebook and Twitter but said that the speed was slow down a bit as the scientists get down to the science. In a private conversation with her, I got a chance to thank her for the better quality of pics that were now being made available. She said that better technology enabled this.

India at Mars

Short version: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft successfully fired it’s Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) today to correct its trajectory and also served as a test for the LAM which had been sleeping for about 298 days now whilst the spacecraft sped in the general direction of where Mars would be. As of 9:30 AM today, MOM is in Mars’ sphere of gravitational influence, it test fired and trajectory corrected at 2:30 PM today. Long version below.

It was 2:30 PM today when ISRO tweeted that the MOM may currently be firing its LAM to perform a test to check if it’s still working and also execute a very small trajectory correction so that the spacecraft will be set up to park into Mars orbit come the morning of September 24. About 15 minutes after that, ISRO announced to the world that they had fired the engines successfully for nearly 4 seconds.



Image: ISRO flashed this image on Twitter with the caption, “Test Firing of Liquid Engine: Guided by wisdom, Executed by youth”. link to the orignial pic

I was really sceptical about ISRO’s prospects of doing a Mars mission. They worked really hard and pulled through extra shifts to ensure that a spacecraft would be ready in time for the Mars launch window in 2013. Little news items were strewn around showing progress that ISRO made that showed that ISRO was working towards the goal of launching in 2013 but nothing quite indicated that they were ready to launch. As the launch window approached, they quickly got the spacecraft off Earth on a smaller launch vehicle than one would anticipate being used for a Mars mission anywhere else in the world.

The modified PSLV, a workhorse adaptable launch vehicle performed excellently delivering the spacecraft to its intended orbit. The spacecraft then performed orbit raising manoeuvres and slowly headed out towards the heliocentric orbit. As the spacecraft pushed off towards Mars, my skepticism slowly waned away.

For a technology demonstrator mission, the most critical part of the mission is to show that the fundamental building blocks work and can function. With today’s LAM firing, I think that ISRO proved a very crucial component of the mission design. Skepticism kept me away from posting anything here for a very long time. I have to say that I am now very hopeful that we can do this. I seek nothing more than a gentle nudge that puts the spacecraft in an elliptical orbit around Mars.

Critics of this mission have been plenty and have criticised each component of this mission design. ISRO has answered its critics thus far by action, something I think that many Indians would do well to ape.