India's maiden Mars mission was on course to reach the Red Planet's orbit on Wednesday that could create history when the spacecraft's main engine was successfully fired today in the first test of its last crucial manoeuvre in search for evidence of life.
The 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) engine, idling for the last 300 days on the Mars Orbiter Mission(MOM) 'Mangalyaan' was fired for four seconds, raising the confidence level of Indian Space Research Organistion(ISRO) about the success of insertion of the spacecraft into the Martian orbit planned for early Wednesday.
India will be the first country to enter the Mars orbit on a maiden mission if it succeeds. It will also be the first Asian country and ISRO the fourth space agency to send a satellite to the Red Planet. European, US and Russian probes have managed to orbit or land on the planet, but after several attempts.
"The spacecraft is healthy. It has completed 98 per cent of its journey to Mars and we are now prepared for that crucial operation to take place on September 24 morning," ISRO Chief K Radhakrishnan said, expressing joy after the engine of the Mars Orbiter was reignited.
Probes to Mars have a high failure rate. Of the 51 missions so far, only 21 have succeeded. A similar mission by China failed in 2011. "Main Liquid Engine test firing on Mars orbiter spacecraft successful: We had perfect burn for 4 seconds as programmed. The trajectory has been corrected. Mars Orbiter Mission will now go ahead with the normal plan for Mars Orbit Insertion," said ISRO.
The success came even as the unmanned probe today entered the Mars Gravitational Sphere of Influence.
"Our navigators' calculations show that MOM has entered the Gravitational Sphere of Influence of Mars," ISRO said.
The spacecraft was within 5.4 lakh km radius of the Mars' Gravitational Sphere of Influence, it said. On a 666 million km journey, the spacecraft escaped the earth gravity pull on December 1 last.
In the last lap on September 24, the orbiter has to be slowed down from 22.1 km per second to 4.4 km per second in relation to the red planet to be captured by the Martian orbit. The engine would be fired for 24 minutes on that day to reduce its velocity and insert it into the Martian orbit.
ISRO has already uploaded commands to help the spacecraft automatically enter the orbit. As India's MOM was on course to its destination, US NASA's MAVEN spacecraft began orbiting Mars today.
"We are not the only show that is happening on Mars this week," said Gary Napier, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin, during a NASA television broadcast of the orbital insertion.
"Everyone at NASA and its partners wishes that team all the best." The MOM was launched from ISRO's spaceport of Sriharikota on November 5 last year.