After a month spent jockeying about in Earth Orbit, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is finally on its way to the Red Planet. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the unmanned spacecraft fired its main engine on Sunday at 12:49 AM (IST) and completed the firing 22 minutes and 8.89 seconds later, completing the Mars orbit insertion that will see it arrive in orbit around Mars in September of next year.
Despite a successful launch on November 5, the MOM mission has not gone entirely without incident. Because the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C25 (PSLV-C25) wasn’t powerful enough to send MOM directly to Mars, the probe spent November carrying out a series of engine firings to boost it into a higher orbit before Sunday’s burn sent it on a low-energy Hohmann transfer orbit for Mars. Unfortunately, one of these firings seemed for a time to place the mission in jeopardy.
On November 11, the spacecraft executed a burn that should have taken it into a higher orbit, but it did not reach the desired velocity. ISRO claimed that this was due to a faulty valve, but outside experts told the BBC that it may have been caused by damage to the engine’s combustion chamber, or a complete valve failure and fuel leak, which would have meant the end of the mission. The space agency said that the craft was in “normal health” and scheduled an additional burn on November 12, which was carried out successfully.
The main purpose of MOM is to act as a technology demonstrator to prove that India has the organization and technical expertise to carry out an interplanetary mission. If successful, MOM will spend six to 10 months orbiting Mars as it carries out surveys of the planet and its atmosphere.
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