India Heads to Mars

India Heads to Mars

India Mars Misson
Image Courtesy of ISRO Website

At 2:38 PM on Tuesday November 5 Indian Standard Time, India’s maiden mission to Mars took off from the Satish Dhavan Space Center (SHAR) in Sriharikota on the Bay of Bengal. It was just two days after the moonless night of Deepawali (or Diwali), the festival which Indian celebrate with fireworks. The day of the week was Mangalwaar, which commemorates the astral body Mangal or Mars. And they lit a 350 ton firecracker on India’s Coromandel Coast

In 1998, Japan’s Nozomi orbiter failed to reach Mars. In 2012, a Chinese probe was lost aboard the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission. In fact only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have managed to reach the Red Planet and none on their first attempt.

But general election  for parliament are due in India around  May 2014 and they will be over before Mangalyaan (Mars Vehicle) reaches its destination on September 24, 2014 after a 299 day journey on a “Hohmann trajectory” which consumes the least amount of energy to move between two orbiting bodies. Good timing for India’s ruling Congress party and its coalition, if all goes well at least until Election Day. It’s a risk but perhaps not as serious as the brinksmanship in American politics with the debt limit and the government shutdown.

India Mars Misson
Image Courtesy of ISRO Website

The mission, the launcher, the spacecraft and the program are 100% Indian. But the US NASA’s  Jet Propulsion Lab here in Pasadena, California is supporting the mission with the use of its Deep Space Network and to help Indian scientists navigate the journey. The cost of the mission is just $73 million, a small fraction of what the United States or Europe spent on any probe visiting our planetary neighbor. For those who criticize a country where 700 million people live on $2 days a day for “wasting money” on space travel, here is what $73 million dollars might buy you otherwise:

India Mars Misson
Image Courtesy of ISRO Website

The traditional wisdom calls for building three prototypes of any new spacecraft before launch. To save money and time, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) built just one prototype and modeled the rest in software. But then this is India, they know software. 500 ISRO staffers worked on this project which really began in 2010 with a feasibility study after India’s success with a Moon mission. India’s Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh made the plan official in his annual Independence Day speech from the Red Fort on August 15, 2012.

In its 25th launch India’s 350 ton Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), put the Mars Orbiter into an Elliptical Parking Orbit around the Earth with a perigee of 250 km and an apogee of 23,500 km. It will orbit the Earth until about December 1 in increasing wider paths building up speed. With six Liquid Engines firing, the spacecraft is gradually maneuvered into a hyperbolic trajectory with which it escapes from the Earth’s Sphere of Influence (SOI) and arrives at Mars’ Sphere of Influence. When the spacecraft reaches nearest point of Mars (Peri-apsis), it is maneuvered in to an elliptical orbit around Mars by firing the Liquid Engine. The spacecraft then moves around the Mars in an orbit with Peri-apsis of 366 km and Apo-apsis of about 80,000 km.

India Mars Misson
Image Courtesy of ISRO Website

The Mars Orbiter Mission carries five scientific payloads with a total weight of just 33 pounds to observe the Martian surface and atmosphere. The focus is on the related geologic and the possible biogenic processes on the planet. These payloads consist of a camera, two spectrometers, a radiometer and a photometer. The Mars Color Camera will take pictures of the surface of Mars and of its two moons, Phobos and Demos. The Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer will map surface composition and mineralogy of Mars.  The Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA) spectrometer is based on a device that launched aboard NASA’s Chandra mission, this instrument is a quadrupole mass spectrometer capable of measuring relative abundances of neutral constituents from 1 to 300 amu, with a unit mass resolution. A Lyman Alpha Spectrometer (LAP) will look for hydrogen and deuterium in the upper atmosphere. The radiometer will function as a Methane Sensor by measuring reflected solar radiation and map the presence of the gas, accurate to a few parts per billion. Methane can be linked to signs of microbial life or volcanic activity.

What this means

For the Indian middle class, Indian business people, and youth at large, getting the country to achieve a first among developing nations is a big morale boost and confidence builder. India performs pitifully in the Olympic Games, does not figure in World Cup Soccer, and most of the commercial software and websites used by Indians originate in the West:  Windows, Linux, Yahoo!, Skype, Facebook, Google, What’s App. When India is seen in movies, it is usually via British eyes as in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire or  Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. Even the 900 million Indians who use cellphones carry brands like  Nokia and Samsung.  The Mars Mission, like the moon mission before it is a statement of 100% Indian pride.

For American businesspeople, the Mars Mission should be further confirmation of India’s technical prowess. If your India tech team is not performing as well as you think it should, ask the experts at Amritt on what you might do differently. You don’t have an India team? Well  this part is not rocket science, give the experts at Amritt a call. We will get you an India team and you don’t even have to get on a plane much less a rocket ship.


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