“The Mars orbiter is in the final stages of testing for launch between Oct 21 and Nov 19 on board a rocket with five scientific instruments to conduct various experiments after a nine-month voyage to the red planet,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) satellite centre director S.K. Shivkumar told reporters here.
As the fourth planet from sun, Mars is the second-smallest celestial body in the solar system, at a whopping distance of 400 million km (250 million miles) from earth. Named after the Roman god of war, it is also known as red planet due to the presence of iron oxide in abundance, giving it a reddish appearance.
The Mars mission will cost the government Rs.450 crore (Rs.4.5 billion), including Rs.150 crore for the spacecraft, Rs.110 crore for the rocket and Rs.190 crore to augment ground stations for operations, including navigation and communications.
“The spacecraft has been built in a record 12 months to orbit elliptically around Mars for six months at a distance of 375 km from its surface when closer, and 80,000 km when away,” Mars orbiter mission project director S. Arunan said.
The 1,340 kg spacecraft (at lift-off) will be shipped to the spaceport Sep 27 for integrating it with the 350-tonne rocket, which is an extended version of the space agency’s workhorse, the polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-XL).
“The launch date will depend on weather conditions and other parameters during the month-long window we have,” Arunan said.
The orbiter will be in the earth’s orbit for 25 days after launch and fired the next day, to set off on a nine-month voyage to reach Martian orbit by Sep 21, 2014.
“The spacecraft will be inserted in the earth’s orbit at 248 km and pushed up to 23,000 km over 25 days to set off on a long voyage to enter the Marsian orbit after next nine months next year,” Arunan pointed out.
The five instruments on board the orbiter are the layman alpha photometer, methane sensor, max exospheric neutral composition analyser, colour camera and thermal infrared imaging spectrometer.
“All the instruments are indigenous and have been built at our centres in Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram. The colour camera will take pictures of earth and moon when passing over the lunar planet on the way, and finally of Mars from its orbit,” the space agency’s programme director M. Annadurai said.
India’s tryst with the red planet comes five years after its maiden moon mission (Chandrayaan-1) in October 2008, which discovered water beneath lunar soil through one of its 11 instruments.
“Though a couple of nations like the US and Russia had launched missions to Mars, the primary objective of our mission is to demonstrate the country’s technological capability to send an orbiter to the red planet and study its environment to find out minerals present there and how the atmosphere behaves,” Shivkumar asserted.