India's ambitious Mars orbiter mission Mangalyaan remains perfectly on track after having completed 98 per cent of its odyssey; and is expected to be in place in the Martian stratosphere on 24 September.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will face one of the biggest tests of this complicated project on 22 September. The space agency will switch on the engine that has been dormant for 10 months, and fire it for four seconds to slow down the spacecraft.
According to ISRO, if the engine fires and performs well, the space organisation will fire it for a longer duration two days later and ease the spacecraft into an orbit around Mars. However, if the engine fails to ignite on 22 September, ISRO will nudge the spacecraft's path towards a Martian orbit by firing eight smaller thrusters on 24 September. In either case, the Mars orbiter is expected to reach its destination within a week.
After the launch of the Mars orbiter from Andhra Pradesh's Sriharikota launching ground, Mangalyaan's journey to the red planet has been a smooth one. The MOM's trajectory is so close to the intended path that ISRO did not have to do a correction exercise planned for last month.
"We have crossed several situations that we have not faced before. We are now preparing for all contingencies for 24 September," said ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan.
This mission is not aimed at exotic scientific experiments on Mars; its main purpose is to test ISRO's ability to take a spacecraft to Mars and keep it in orbit there. Experiments while orbiting Mars would be useful, but it is not the core part of the mission.