After a journey of almost a year, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has arrived at the Red Planet. On Wednesday at 7.29 am IST (02.29 GMT), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) confirmed that the unmanned probe had successfully executed its 24 minute and 14 second engine burn and gone into orbit around Mars. With MOM’s successful rendezvous, the number of active spacecraft now studying the planet rises to eight.
Today’s maneuver was a bit of a nail biter because the laws of orbital mechanics required the autonomous engine burn to take place while the MOM probe was flying behind Mars and out of telemetry contact with Earth. If the engine fired incorrectly, the craft would either have been hurled back into deep space or burned up in the Martian atmosphere. However, when contact was reestablished, mission control in Bangalore confirmed that MOM had settled into its proper elliptical orbit of 423 x 80,000 km (263 x 49,710 mi) with a period of 3.2 Earth days.
MOM was launched on November 5, 2013 from the ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre on the island of Sriharikota atop a PSLV-C25 rocket and is India’s first interplanetary mission. Designed as a technology demonstrator to show what the republic is capable of in the field of space science, MOM reached Mars after a journey of almost a year, during which it carried out a complex series of orbital maneuvers around the Earth to build up enough speed to send it on an interplanetary trajectory.
Today’s orbit insertion comes after Monday’s 3.968-second test firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) to ensure that the engine was still functional after remaining dormant for so many months. ISRO says that today’s achievement marks the first time that a spacefaring power has made a successful arrival at Mars on its first attempt.
Now that MOM is in Martian orbit, its five-instrument suite will begin its mission of studying the surface and atmosphere of Mars with a particular emphasis on measuring the methane in the Martian atmosphere; a key indicator of microbial life.