India Launches Its 1st Mars Probe into Earth Orbit

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BANGALORE, India — India’s first interplanetary probe began its journey to Mars with a successful launch Nov. 5 that put the spacecraft in a parking orbit around Earth.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that carried the 1.3-ton Mangalyaan Mars probe, formally called the Mars Orbiter Mission, into orbit lifted off at 2:38 p.m. local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre on Sriharikota island off India’s southeastern coast. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) used a similar PSLV rocket to launch Chandrayaan to the Moon in 2008.

ISRO Chairman Koppilli Radhakrishnan declared the launch a success after the PSLV injected the spacecraft into the predicted 241-kilometer-by-23,560-kilometer orbit around Earth.

NASA provided deep-space navigation and tracking support services to the mission, ISRO officials said.

Mangalyaan’s apogee will be raised through a series of six orbit-raising maneuvers over the next three weeks. When the spacecraft achieves an apogee of 192,000 kilometers Dec. 1, it will break free from Earth’s gravitational pull and begin its nine-month cruise to Mars.

Because the PSLV is not as powerful as the Atlas 5 rockets NASA uses for its Mars missions, Mangalyaan will need to use its on-board propulsion system to reach the red planet, according to ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik.

By late September, ISRO expects to maneuver Mangalyaan onto a 372-kilometer-by-80,000-kilometer elliptical orbit around Mars, where it will spend six months observing the planet.

If successful, the 4.6 billion rupee ($74.5 million) mission will make India the first Asian country to reach Mars, beating China and Japan and joining the United States, Russia and Europe as the only nations to deliver probes to the red planet.

In a postlaunch address, Radhakrishnan said the mission’s primary objective is to demonstrate India’s technological capability to reach Mars orbit and to conduct meaningful experiments.

Mangalyaan carries a 15-kilogram suite of five science instruments to study the martian upper atmosphere, surface features and mineralogy.

It also carries a color camera to take images of the red planet and a sensitive sensor to detect methane.

Mangalyaan’s launch had been scheduled for Oct. 28 but bad weather prevented ISRO from positioning its shipborne radars in the South Pacific in time.