November 6, 2013 – The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has joined the United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency in attempting to leap from Earth to Mars. On Tuesday the Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM was launched into low-Earth orbit where it will remain until the end of November before it begins its interplanetary voyage expected to take 300 days.
India joins Japan, China and South Korea in a new Asian space race. And India is doing it on the cheap with MOM costing $75 million U.S. India had hoped to use its next generation launcher for this mission but the program continues to run into problems with the upper stage of its more powerful rocket boosters, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle and its successor the GSLV Mark III. Instead it used the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which is the workhorse of India’s satellite launch vehicles.
You have to admire India’s space effort but one wonders how a nation still struggling to feed all of its people would choose at this time to go to Mars. The scientists and engineers at ISRO point out that India is as advanced as any of the Developed World countries with engineers and PhDs all capable of developing advanced technology. They believe that a space program will yield benefits for the country that will far exceed the investment. And for those who suggest that India is merely trying to keep up with China, they answer “we are not in a race with anybody….we are in a race with ourselves.”
MOM contains five Indian-built solar-powered instrument packages. Two are designed to do a detailed study of Mars’ tenuous atmosphere looking for methane and measuring deuterium to hydrogen ratios. The remainder will map the surface composition and mineralogy of the planet and will record high-resolution colour images. MOM will try and find the methane previously reported by orbiters but strangely not found by Curiosity in its exploration of Gale Crater.
So let’s hope over the month that MOM has several successful burns that place it in the right orbit for trans-Mars alignment on November 30.