MOM Overcomes Technical Hurdle And Back On Its Trajectory To Mars

A few words about the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM):

The MOM secured the sanction of the Government on 3rd August, 2012 with a budget of USD 80 million, just a few days before NASA successfully launched and touched the surface of Mars, with their space exploration rover, designated Curiosity. Since then, the ISRO scientists have been working tirelessly to design the spacecraft for the proposed Mars mission. In an incredible 15 months period, the satellite for the MOM was ready. The spacecraft itself has been designed within a very short period, and it has been equipped with five specific equipments (Payload):

  • Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA)
  • Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP)
  • Mars Color Camera (MCC)
  • TIR Spectrometer (TIS)
  • Methane Sensor For Mars (MSM): The purpose of the MSM is to detect and identify the source of methane on the surface of the red planet which seems to be the prime objective of the mission.

Other than these equipments, the satellite has been provided with larger solar panels, owing to the low solar flux in the Mars atmosphere.

Amongst much celebrations, the MOM was finally launched on November 5th, 2013, the earlier date scheduled for October, had to be canceled because of bad weather. ISRO has used a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, called PSLV-CL 25. This is a much lighter version, with a liquid fuelled six stage rocket propelled engine. Hence, the satellite will take about 20 days to hit the path designated for its final destination. The six stage rocket is providing the six necessary orbital boosts.

After its launch, the MOM spacecraft has been orbiting the earth as predicted, in a perfect elliptical orbit, accredited to the PSLV-CL 25, while its orbit is being slowly uplifted with the rocket thrusts and a final rocket thrust will embark satellite on its scheduled journey of more than 485 million miles to Mars. The spacecraft and the orbit lifting operations will continue till late November 2013. Once embarked on the scheduled path to Mars, it is expected that the spacecraft will complete its 300 days space travel and reach Mars by September 24th, 2014. NASA is supposed to provide the ground level support for the MOM through its Deep Space Network (DSN) facilities. Less than two hours before the launch, the 1350 kg satellite, made from Composite Fibre Reinforced Plastic (CFRP), was completely layered with gold.

Technical fault encountered during the orbit lifting operations of MOM:

The MOM was launched successfully on November 5th, 2013 at 2:38 PM, following an eight and a half hour countdown, that commenced at 6:08 AM. The PSLV-CL 25 had launched the satellite in a perfect elliptical orbit around the earth. The satellite escalated smoothly to its first orbit of 246.9 after travelling a distance of 23,566.69 kilometers around the earth. However, the technical problems were noted while increasing the apogee (the farthest point from the surface of the earth) to about I lakh kilometers, during the fourth orbit lifting operations. A deceleration of the estimated ‘incremental velocity’ of 130mps to an actual velocity of 35mps resulted in the achievement of much lower apogee of 71,623 kilometers, by the PSLV. An additional orbit raising operation was undertaken by the scientists of the Spacecraft Control Center (Bangalore) to achieve the desired apogee. The backup systems installed in the spacecraft had saved the day. As explained in the statement issued by ISRO, “When both the primary and the redundant coils were energized together, as one of the planned modes, the flow to the liquid engine stopped. The thrust level augmentation logic, as expected, came in and the operation continued using the attitude control thrusters. This sequence resulted in reduction of the incremental velocity”.

The ISRO statement had further added that, “During the orbit raising operations conducted since November 7, 2013, ISRO has been testing and exercising the autonomy functions progressively. The prime and the redundant star sensors have been functioning satisfactorily. The primary coil of the solenoid flow control valve was used successfully for the first three orbit raising operations”. This technical hitch makes it impossible to make the two coils function simultaneously. Apart from that, if the rest of the operations occur in the sequence as planned, the satellite will have little problem in reaching the Mars orbit by September 24th, 2014.

As confirmed by the ISRO scientists, an apogee of more than one lakh kilometers had been achieved as of November 12th, 2013. In a message to the media, ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan further confirmed, “The orbit – raising operation was a success…..we are expecting an apogee of 1.18 lakh kilometers”. This apogee means that, that satellite is ready to leave the orbit of the earth and embark on its journey of 400 million miles to Mars. The final departure from the earth’s orbit will involve a phase called the Trans – Martian Injection (the final rocket boost) scheduled for December 1st, 2013. The scientists of ISRO have reaffirmed that, the satellite is in a perfect condition to conclude the Trans – Martian Injection operation and complete its 300 days space travel to its final destination, the red planet.

The most globally observed/tracked satellites:

The website provides facilities of tracking the satellites, currently engaged in deep space probe on the Internet. Given below is a global list, in descending order, of most popularly observed /tracked satellites as per the data furnished by, for the last 12 hours of 9th November, 2013

  • The most popular satellite happens to be GOSAT (IBUKI). Launched by Japan in 2009, the satellite is furnished with TANSO – FTS (a greenhouse gas emission and observation technology) and TANSO –CAI (aerosol/cloud sensor and also supplementing the TANSO – FTS).
  • GOCE, launched by the European Space Agency in 2009, programmed to cruise the upper layers of the atmosphere for nearly two years, gauging the gravitational field of the earth.
  • ISS (ZARYA) of the International Space Federation (a joint space venture of Russia, US, Canada, Europe and Japan – launched in1998.
  • The Mangalyaan/MOM launched by ISRO, India, in November, 2013, currently embarking on a course to the red planet Mars.

Comments made by space scientists on the MOM:

  • ISRO Satellite Center Director S K Shivkumar: “Our baby is up in space. We have a long way to go”.
  • Ex – President of India and the famous scientist A P J Abdul Kalam expressed his confidence in ISRO’s space technological know – how and commented that ISRO will successfully win this challenge.
  • Amitava Ghosh, Chairperson, Science Operations Working Group, NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission was full of admiration for the endeavors of ISRO but, he also pointed out that, the success rate of Mars mission is very low and only few countries have been able to pull it off. A successful completion of the MOM should not be considered as a great achievement for India. He further added that, “ISRO need not recreate what has already been done. To be relevant it should chart its own unique trajectory of frontline discoveries that will leave an imprint on space science and technology”
  • Planning Commission Member and Ex – Chairman, ISRO, K Kasturirangan, termed the launch as “incredibly exciting moment”. He further added that, “I think the mission is extremely challenging and demanding…..You have been given just 15 months to take the mission to the first level. And, this is something unbelievable – 15 months for a space program of this complexity and that achieved at a level demonstrated today….”

It needs to be mentioned here that the ISRO’s Facebook Page has registered 90,000 likes and increasing; while ISRO is updating the page with regular developments.


The successful completion of the Mars Orbitar Mission will not only be a milestone of space exploration achievements for India, but also will provide the world with important scientific data which can possibly be the basis of future space explorations. The Mangalyaan happens to be the fourth most tracked and globally observed satellite as confirmed by the website N2YO. The Mars Mission will undoubtedly put India on the same page as that of USA, Russia, Japan, China and Europe and a leading authority in space explorations in the global perspective, much to the dismay of the NASA Rover Chairperson Amitava Ghosh!

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Destination Mars : The Mars Orbiter Mission 2013