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Getting Ready for India’s MOM | RVCE Updates
 

RVCE Updates

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October 19, 2013

Getting Ready for India’s MOM

mangalyaan

Christened ‘Mangalyaan’ by the media, ISRO’s Mars Orbter Mission (MOM) is all set to launch anytime from 28 th October to 19th November. If successful, India will be catapulted into the elite group of countries that have launched a probe to the planet next door.

One of the main objectives of the first Indian mission to Mars is to develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission.

This is mission is of paramount importance for India; it has several dimensions — conducting scientific experiments, demonstrating technological and engineering acumen and creating the necessary credentials to be part of future international space missions. The spacecraft is also designed to photograph the Martian surface from orbit and search for signs of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, be it expelled by non-biological or microbial sources.

With the launch date looming, the probe has arrived at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota to be put atop an already stacked and awaiting Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. India’s Mars orbiter launch window opens on Oct. 28 and closes on Nov. 19, with the arrival at the Red Planet targeted for September 2014. If all goes well, India would become the fourth country (or group of countries) to reach Mars, after the former Soviet Union, the United States and European Union.

The tools MOM will use

The Mars Orbiter Mission will carry five payloads into Mars orbit:

Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP): Measures the Deuterium to Hydrogen abundance radio to assess the loss process of water from the planet.

Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS): Provides a map of the composition and mineralogy of the Martian surface, operating day and night.

Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA): Studies the neutral composition of the Martian upper atmosphere.

Mars Color Camera (MCC): Images the topography of the Martian surface, keeping an orbiting eye on dynamic events and weather of Mars and will also be used for snapping pictures of the moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.

Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM): Measures the Martian atmosphere on the lookout for methane at several parts per billion levels and maps its sources. Data is acquired only over an illuminated scene as the sensor measures reflected solar radiation.

The Challenges Ahead

It will be a 300-day journey for the craft in three phases — Geo-centric phase, Helio-centric phase and finally the nail-biting Martian phase-which will be around 573,000 km from Earth’s surface. If the craft is not propelled enough, it will fall into a circular orbit and eventually crash on the Martian surface — something which would be a bad contretemps indeed. On the other hand, if it is propelled too much, it will skim over the Martian atmosphere and be lost in space. The margin for error is pretty slim.

The craft will also encounter a number of issues during its run in space. While communication is always a concern, another issue is energy from the solar panels. As the craft encounters blackouts — periods in the shadow of the planet and can’t receive energy — there are also periods of white-outs when the craft is bombarded with solar plasma and can’t function for a while. The team at ISRO have to take all this it considerations.

The Implications for Science

Apart from the technological side, Mangalyaan is expected to further our knowledge on the Red Planet. Previous Mars mission have alluded to the presence of ancient life on Mars, the foremost being Curiosity. They have provided ample direct evidence on Mars for hydrated minerals on the surface, and of water at subsurface regions. Mangalyaan is designed to accentuate these missions.

Something that has always speculated, but never confirmed, is the possible presence of methane on Mars — if found, it could give new weight to the possibility of life on Mars. Although Curiosity has not found any evidence for methane, scientists remain sanguine; after all, absence of evidence does not indicate evidence of absence. One of Mangalyaan’s primary scientific objectives is to detect signs of methane of Mars, and shed more light on this debate.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN mission (MAVEN) is expected to arrive at Mars in February next year. Many of its instruments will have synergy with on Mangalyaan.

The Implications for Us

India seems to show great alacrity for space exploration, and many Indians are now treating it as an imperative for our country. We are eager to show the world that Indians have the tenacity to carry out audacious scientific endeavours such as this. It is indeed a proud time to be Indian!



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