By Prarthana Mitra
ISRO’s Mangalyaan, popularly known as Mars Orbiter Mission or the first ever successful maiden mission to the red planet, completed four years in orbit on Sunday, September 23.
When was it launched?
Launched with the PSLV-C25 rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on November 5, 2013, the orbiter crossed close to 70 crore kilometres in less than a year, before entering into Mars orbit on September 24, 2014. It was a momentous feat, making India the first nation to successfully launch a probe on Mars on their debut attempt.
What is the mystery behind its long life?
Over the course of its journey around Mars, MoM has captured the seasonal variations of the planet for two Martian years and has successfully managed to stay afloat and transmit valuable data for three and a half years more than it was originally built for. Even as it continues to hover in Mars’ atmosphere, all five payloads are fully functioning, despite being one of the least expensive missions to outer space. The longevity of the spacecraft continues to baffle those who were sceptical as the project was cheaper than Oscar-winning space movie Gravity, and took ISRO less than 2 years to build.
With 100 kg fuel in stock, Mangalyaan took off and still has fuel left, according to ISRO chairman K Sivan. Over its illustrious journey, the spacecraft has narrowly missed the passing comet Siding Spring, avoided a long eclipse that could have exhausted its batteries and resurfaced after a month of communication blackout due to the solar conjunction. The autonomous features enabled it to continue on its odyssey without any ground commands or intervention. Comprising the same hardware as Chandrayaan-1, coupled with the ‘slingshot’ mechanism, Mangalyaan was able to escape the earth’s gravitational pull easily by orbiting earth to gain the speed first.
What have we learnt about the red planet from the mission?
Mylswamy Annadurai, former director of ISRO Satellite Centre and programme director for the Mangalyaan project in 2013 told Deccan Chronicle, “MOM is taking pictures from a higher altitude where it captures the whole planet. With Mars Colour Camera, we are able to see the seasonal variations of Mars for two Martian years.” He added, “Some of the satellites that have survived are closer to Mars and they did not have the full view. Our orbit is bigger and we are able to take the full view of the planet,” he said.
With the help of the imaging system on board, ISRO was able to release an atlas of the planet despite the dust clouds enveloping it, complete with topographical details.
The search for Methane, a building block and indicator of life, is keeping ISRO and international scientists busy at present. They are able to analyse and correlate the data transmitted by the Methane Sensor for Mars for traces of the gas, a process that Annadurai claims is time-consuming.
A prestigious place among international Martian enthusiasts
While some have also viewed it as an expensive project (by Indian standards) for the sake of optics, Mangalyaan has been provided with a major bolster to India’s career in space travel and research. “I had a personal experience how the image of India was changed after the success of Mangalyaan mission. There is a difference in how they viewed us before Chandrayaan-1, Mangalyaan and after the two missions. The international community is taking us seriously now,” Annadurai said. Sivan agreed, adding, “It gave the confidence to go on bigger missions. We also tested several technologies. We will soon launch a second mission to Mars and we are looking at the technical aspects of the project.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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