India on Wednesday became the first country to successfully place a satellite in the Martian orbit in its maiden attempt, leaving behind the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency.
India is also the first Asian country to achieve the feat after failed attempts by China and Japan.
The success spurred Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the orbiter’s journey from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) Tracking, Telemetry and Command Network Centre (Istrac) at Peenya here to deliver a passionate speech exhorting scientists to take the risk of going after the unknown.
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, too, witnessed the event along with Union Ministers Ananthkumar and Sadananda Gowda.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) success comes after the spectacular Chandrayaan-1, India’s first moon mission which was launched in October 2008.
In the intervening six year period, Isro has taken a giant leap in Intellectual Property, knowledge and practical experience and is clearly in a position to deliver on inter-planetary missions as outlined in its Vision Policy 2025.
The success confirms the technology-demonstrator argument that Isro is capable of handling complex space technologies of deep space missions and that it can create the technology on its own.
Former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar, former Isro heads Madhavan Nair, U R Rao and K Kasturirangan, said that MOM’s success underscores technological capability and precision engineering.
The next mission will certainly be a Mars “LANDING” mission sometime around 2018-2020, which needs a higher level of technology that goes beyond orbit insertions. Before that, the second moon mission may be commissioned, which too has plans for a lander and rover.
Wednesday’s operations at the Istrac centre went as planned. The nerve centre was the Missions Operations Complex (MOX-2), just behind MOX-1 at the Istrac campus.
Isro Chairman K Radhakrishnan and all heads of different Isro centres were also present. All operations in MOX-2 were beamed live to MOX-1 for the media and Doordarshan gave live coverage of the event.
The operations which began at 4:17 am ended at 7:41 am when the spacecraft slipped into Martian orbit. A few minutes later, the rotation of the spacecraft began once again which confirmed that the first signal from the spacecraft’s antenna to earth and the mission control centre was coming in.
The rotation is an indication that the antenna will face the earth to send signals, because if the rotation does not occur, then the orbiter will not be able to communicate with earth.
The orbiter's speed was also reduced to 2.14 metres per second from 22.2 km per second for its smooth transition into Mars orbit from the Sun’s orbit. The burn took place when there was a solar eclipse on Mars for 15 minutes. As a result, radio link between the spacecraft and earth stations snapped. The accelerometers onboard were programmed in advance, the commands were executed automatically.
The spacecraft is 421.7 km from Mars at the closest point and 76,993.6 km away from Mars at its farthest point. The orbiter will take 72 hours, 51 minutes and 51 seconds or 3.2 earth days to rotate once around the red planet.
Over the next six months, the MOM will look for mineral compositions and scan the Martian atmosphere for methane gas in search of life-sustaining elements. The spacecraft’s estimated arrival altitude after the engine firing was expected to be 515 km from Mars.