NEW DELHI (dpa) – India’s low-cost Mars mission faces its most crucial test Wednesday as it attempts to put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars after a voyage of 300 days. A successful orbit insertion would make India the first Asian nation to reach Mars and give a tremendous boost to the country’s ambition of becoming a major player in the multibillion-dollar commercial space launch market.
Fewer than 50 per cent of the 51 international Mars missions have been successful, and none on the first attempt. But the mood at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was upbeat.
“Our launch, six orbit-raising manoeuvres, we have met with 99 per cent success,” said Koteswara Rao, the agency’s scientific secretary.
“The orbit insertion on September 24 is challenging, but we are confident we will make it.”
The spacecraft’s engine was to be test-fired Monday, followed by a course correction early Wednesday when its speed would be slowed down from 22.2 kilometres per second to 2.14 metres per second, to move it into Mars’ orbit in a half-hour exercise. It would be performed automatically by the spacecraft, and the commands were being uploaded, Rao said.
Indian scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organization monitor the Mars Orbiter Mission at the tracking centre ISTRAC (ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network) in Bangalore, India, September 15
A member of the Central Industrial Security Force stands guard at the Indian Space Research Organization at Deep Space Network station, Telemetry Tracking and Command Network Centre, near Byalalu village on the outskirts of Bangalore, India in this November 27, 2013 file photo
An Indian woman captures the successful launch of The Indian Space Research Organization Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft ‘Mangalyaan’ at the Satish Dhawan Space Center Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, India, in this November 5, 2013 file photo – PHOTOS: EPA
“It’s a challenging exercise. Mars is over 200 million kilometers away. And all planets have different push and pull; it is a challenge to keep the spacecraft in orbit.”
Another challenge will be to catch the faint signals from the spacecraft. Ground stations in India, the United States, Australia and Spain will be monitoring these.
India has put 70 satellites into orbit over the past two decades. India’s space missions so far have been the cheapest in the market.
The Mars mission, named Mangalyaan – a combination of the Hindi word “Mangal,” for Mars, and “yaan,” meaning vehicle – cost 80 million dollars.
NASA’s latest Mars mission Maven, which entered the Mars orbit on Sunday, just days ahead of the Indian craft’s scheduled entry, cost 671 million dollars.
Both Mangalyaan and Maven are not intended to land on Mars, but plan to study the atmosphere.
“The Maven is a larger, more capable aircraft than India’s Mangalyaan,” said Emily Lakdawalla of the California-based non-profit The Planetary Society. “But to do an interplanetary mission in 80 million dollars is very cheap. If India pulls it off, other countries would look to India for launching interplanetary spacecraft.”
“India has the potential to be the launch-service provider of the world. We must work towards this goal,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said recently. A successful Mars mission would be a huge step towards that goal.
“Technological achievements in space are measured by launch vehicle capabilities, satellites, navigation capabilities,” Rao said. “Yes, a successful Mars mission would certainly give India’s commercial ambitions a boost.”
“A successful Mars mission would be a very important technological achievement for India, and also increase its prestige and standing in the satellite launch market and bring in more business proposals,” said Ajay Lele of the New Delhi-based Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.
India’s Mars orbiter carries a 25-kilogram payload of instruments and imaging equipment to study the atmosphere and surface of Mars. Among its goals is to search for the presence of methane gas in the Martian atmosphere, a finding that would support theories that the planet can support primitive life forms.
“The main goal of the mission is to test and demonstrate technological capabilities and gather inputs for future missions within our limited budgets and capabilities,” Rao said.