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ISRO creates history as Mars orbiter Mangalyaan in place sans glitch

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24 September 2014

India today successfully placed its Mars orbiter Mangalyaan in its destined path in what Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists said was a record time of mere three hours.

With this India has also created a piece of history, becoming the first Asian country to reach this close to Mars and the first in the world to enter the Martian orbit on its maiden attempt.

With the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India has joined the United States' NASA, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers.

According to ISRO, the Mars spacecraft was successfully inserted into orbit at 515 km from the red planet's surface and 215 million km from the earth in radio distance.

The challenging task of the Mars orbit insertion began at 4:17 am when the spacecraft switched over to the medium gain antenna for emitting and receiving radio signals.

During the crucial operation, when an eclipse occurred on Mars from 7:12 am, the 440 Newton liquid apogee motor (LAM) of the main engine started burning at 7:30 am and lasted for 24 minutes till 7:54 am for inserting the spacecraft into the Martian orbit.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined Isro scientists in massive celebrations at the mission control room in Bangalore. With Mangalyaan in Mars orbit, Prime Minister Modi all decked out in a red shirt as befits the occasion burst out clapping, hugging and hand-shaking all around. It was hard for anyone around not to feel a little emotional.

America's NASA and as well as the authorities of its own far more ambitious Mars project MAVEN were prompt with their congratulations to ISRO, which is one of the few Indian government-run agencies that have made a global mark.

Addressing the nation from the Isro headquarters, Modi said it was an extremely proud and historic moment not just for the scientists at Isro but for every single Indian.

"Through your hard work you have made it possible to achieve the impossible. History has been created and with today's success, India is the only country to succeed in its very first attempt," he said.

Nasa, which helped India in its Mars mission, also sent in a congratulatory message.

According to Isro, the Mars spacecraft was successfully inserted into the Martian orbit at 515 km away from the red planet's surface and 215 million km away from the earth in radio distance.

The challenging task of the Mars orbit insertion began in the early hours of Wednesday at 4.17 am when the spacecraft switched over to the medium gain antenna for emitting and receiving radio signals.

It was a tricky operation for the Isro team during `occulation', when the spacecraft was hidden behind Mars. This means that Mangalyaan should come out from behind Mars to know what really transpired.

During the crucial operation, when an eclipse occurred on Mars from 7.12 am, the 440 Newton liquid apogee motor (LAM) of the main engine started burning at 7.30 am and lasted for 24 minutes till 7.54 am for inserting the spacecraft into the Martian orbit.

''This is the tricky part of the Mars mission. Mangalyaan is now behind the red planet, which means that it will be out of communication with earth for 28 minutes. If all goes well, by around 8 or 8.30 am we will get to know whether the mission is a success or not.''

Isro deputy director Madan Lal said that Mangalyaan was 98 per cent there. So we can relax a little, but it's still too soon to celebrate!

''Now we have a tense few minutes to find out whether or not the entire burn has been successful and whether Mangalyaan will slow down to the perfect speed, allowing it to be captured by the Mars gravitational orbit,'' he said.

And soon, Isro said the burn must have ended by now. ''Mangalyaan should now start turning towards earth. We won't know any of this for a while, because the craft is behind Mars. This means the craft is pretty much on its own, because it will have no contact with earth for the next half an hour or so.''

With this, India became the first Asian country to successfully carry out a Mars mission.

Only 21 of the 51 missions to Mars so far have been successful. No country has managed a successful Mars mission on its first try, and no Asian country has managed the feat either. And if successful, it will also be the cheapest mission to Mars yet undertaken by any nation.

The first Chinese mission to Mars, the Yinghuo-1 failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched. Japan's first Mars orbiter, Nozomi launched in 1998, was lost after it ran out of fuel.

Isro's six stages towards success:

  • Spacecraft successfully enters Martian orbit
  • Burn start of main liquid engine confirmed
  • The radio link between the spacecraft and earth blocked by Mars.
  • Eclipse starts - the spacecraft is in shadow of Mars
  • Forward rotation starts
  • Changed over to medium gain antenna

 





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