India’s most ambitious space mission yet, Mangalyaan, is nearing fruition. ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission is expected to lift off from Sriharikota in the third week of October, and will be the silver jubilee launch of ISRO’s reliable PSLV platform. If this mission turns out to be successful, ISRO would be only the fourth space agency to have a mission to Mars under its belt.
Only the American NASA, Russian Roscosmos and European Space Agency have so far successfully carried out Mars missions, making it one of the most elite space clubs on Earth.
ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said in the wee hours of Tuesday, that ISRO would be able to launch the Mangalyaan mission after October 21, on a date that is yet to be decided.
The focus would shift to making the ambitious Mars mission just days after ISRO’s scheduled launch of the INSAT-3D satellite from French Guiana on July 26. “We are planning to start stacking (assembly of the launch vehicle) the Mars mission from July 29. We are looking to launch the mission any day from October 21. Either on November 28 or 29, the Mars mission is scheduled to leave the Earth’s orbit and start its voyage to Mars,” said Radhakrishnan.
The voyage to Mars is expected to take around 300 days, during which time ISRO will have the cooperation of NASA and its deep Space Network. The craft will then enter Martian orbit, in a path which will be 372 km at its closest and over 80,000 km at its farthest.
The Mars Orbiter is set to carry out imaging and mapping of Mars’s terrain, in an operation similar to the one designed for Chandrayaan-1.
Mangalyaan is set to be injected into orbit by PSLV-C25, which is in itself a milestone for ISRO as the 25th launch of the workhorse PSLV platform. With the launch of the PSLV-C22 on July 1, PSLV has made 24 flights, with 23 consecutive successes.
The PSLV-C25 will feature the XL variant of the PSLV for the fifth time. The PSLV-XL is the most powerful of the PSLV stable. It was the same variant which was successfully used in the Chandrayaan-1 mission.
10 more space treks before March
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) seems to be in for a very busy year ahead. The space agency has said it is lining up 10 more space missions to be completed in the ongoing financial year. These include the high profile Mars Orbiter, the critical experimental mission of the GSLV-Mark III, two communications satellites and the launch of a French satellite.
Speaking to reporters at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre after the successful launch of the IRNSS-1A satellite aboard the PSLV-C22, ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said the next mission on the cards is the launch of INSAT-3D, an advanced meteorological satellite, on July 26.
The satellite would be launched onboard the European Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana.
This would be followed by the GSLV-D5/GSAT-14 double mission, which will feature the indigenously developed cryogenic engine, during the third week of August. Around ISRO would also launch the GSAT-7 from French Guiana. The GSAT-7 is scheduled to be shipped to the launch site on July 9.
Also on agenda is the Mars Orbiter Mission in October and an experimental flight of the GSLV-Mark III in January, 2014. In between, the agency will also launch the French SPOT-7 satellite in a commercial launch operation aboard the PSLV.
The other mission, the launch of the IRNSS-1B navigational satellite will be decided based on the performance and in-orbit testing of the IRNSS-1A, launched on Monday.
All the above missions are set to be completed before March 10, 2014. Apart from these, ISRO also has to prepare for the launch of GSAT-15 and GSAT-16 approved by the Union Cabinet.
Phobos failure set to delay Chandrayaan II
The recent failure of the Phobos-Grunt joint mission of Russia and China has brought a level of uncertainty to the Chandrayaan-2 mission.
Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is set to provide the lander to get ISRO’s lunar rover onto the moon’s surface.
But now, internal reviews being carried out by Roscosmos are being followed closely by ISRO.
India’s second moon mission has already been dogged by some delays owing to the fact that the GSLV-Mark II, on which the mission is set to be launched, is not ready.
The uncertainty over the mission date was made clear by ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan at a press conference held after the successful launch of the IRNSS-1A aboard the PSLV-C22 on late on Monday night.
“As of now, there is uncertainty over the availability of the lander from Russia. Internal reviews are going on over the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission. We will have clarity only in about two months over the lander. ISRO is communicating with Russia over the matter,” said Radhakrishnan.
The Phobos-Grunt mission had lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on November 9, 2011 and failed when rocket burns meant to kickstart its voyage to Mars failed.
This had left the craft stranded in a low earth orbit. Subsequent efforts to bring the mission back on track failed, and Phobos-Grunt made an uncontrolled descent into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean near Chile on January 15, 2012.
The mission had included the Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1.
Chandrayaan-II has already been dogged by persistent problems with ISRO’s GSLV launch platform. The space agency has been struggling to get the Cryogenic engine stage working properly.
The mission is scheduled to go up aboard the GSLV-Mark II featuring the indigenous Cryogenic engine.