Indian Probe in Mars Orbit

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BANGALORE, India — Indians woke up Sept. 24 to see their country’s first interplanetary probe successfully go into orbit around Mars, an anxiously awaited event that had grabbed much media attention. 

The Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft built by the Indian Space Research Organisation entered Mars orbit at 7:47 a.m. local time. Also known as Mangalyaan, the probe was the second visitor to reach the red planet in less than a week, the first being NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

“You have made history today and made the nation proud,” an excited Prime Minister Narendra Modi told ISRO scientists after watching the crucial operation leading to Mangalyaan’s capture by Mars from the mission control center near Bangalore. In an address telecast live from mission control, Modi congratulated the entire ISRO team and urged them to aim for “even more challenging goals.”  

Modi noted that the mission is the first Mars orbiter launched by an Asian nation and was developed in a relatively short time frame — 15 months — at a cost of less than what it takes to make some Hollywood movies.

The Mangalyaan spacecraft was launched Nov. 5 by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on the eastern coast 80 kilometers north of Chennai. After a nearly 10-month journey covering some 680 million kilometers, the probe arrived within Mars’ zone of influence Sept. 22 as scheduled to carry out the final operation that would put it into orbit.

At 7:17 a.m. Sept. 24 the spacecraft fired its main onboard engine together with eight smaller attitude control thrusters for 24 minutes. ISRO confirmed the successful burn and orbit insertion around 8 a.m. 

In a statement released later, ISRO said Mangalyaan was in a highly elliptical orbit with a perigee of 421.7 kilometers and an apogee of 76,993.6 kilometers. The orbital inclination is 150 degrees, with a period of just under 73 hours. 

“In the coming weeks, the spacecraft will be thoroughly tested in the Mars orbit and the systematic observation of that planet using its five scientific instruments would begin,” the statement said.

During its planned six-month mission, Mangalyaan will measure Mars’ atmospheric methane, map its surface composition and mineralogy, and measure the deuterium/hydrogen ratio to help scientists determine how gases are escaping from the planet’s upper atmosphere.