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Congratulations due to India: Mars Orbiter Mission is on the way to Mars!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla

30-11-2013 14:51 CST

Topics: Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), mission status

Today I am delighted to welcome India into the ranks of interplanetary travelers. Today their Mars Orbiter Mission has successfully propelled itself onto an interplanetary trajectory, departing Earth forever and setting sail for Mars. No matter what happens to the spacecraft between now and next September, India has achieved interplanetary travel. Congratulations to India, to the Indian Space Research Organisation, to the mission's scientists and engineers, and to the people of India.

As reported on ISRO's website, the rocket burned for 1328.89 seconds to impart an incremental velocity of 647.96 m/sec. Here's a little animation I put together from photos posted to the mission's Facebook page:

Mars Orbiter Mission departs Earth
Mars Orbiter Mission departs Earth

What's next for the mission? According to a Press Trust of India article, the plan includes four trajectory correction maneuvers, the first happening on December 11. The rest are in April 2014, August 2014, and then 10 days before orbit insertion on September 14.

There are a lot of things that are challenging about space exploration. But some things are more hazardous than others. For this mission, the three most hazardous events were always the launch; the injection onto an interplanetary trajectory; and arrival at Mars. All three of these events have to go absolutely perfectly -- any problem would almost certainly mean failure of the mission. Mars Orbiter Mission has now successfully weathered two of the three biggest challenges. The last comes in September 2014, when the spacecraft will meet Mars.

When Mars Orbiter Mission arrives at Mars, the planet and the spacecraft will be on different heliocentric orbits. Mars Orbiter Mission must fire its rocket in the right direction, for long enough, to change its heliocentric orbit enough that Mars' gravity will take control of the spacecraft's path. There is only one chance to get that right. We can look at Japan for two tragic cases when this step did not go well. Japan's Nozomi, which was intended to be a Mars orbiter, suffered a series of setbacks, beginning with a short trans-Mars injection burn, and ending with frozen fuel lines. Nozomi reached Mars but was unable to fire its rocket to enter orbit. Unable to be grabbed by Mars, it continued on a heliocentric orbit and, too damaged to produce a useful science mission, it was shut down.  Akatsuki, which was intended to enter orbit at Venus, suffered a catastrophic failure of its rocket motor partway through the burn. Akatsuki shifted its orbit somewhat, but not enough to be able to enter orbit at Venus. There is still a small amount of hope that Akatsuki may be able to achieve Venus orbit once it comes back around the Sun, in 2015 or 2016, but even if it does, it will not be the same mission as intended because it will not be the right orbit.

Of course there are other kinds of failures, too, like the one that happened to NASA's Mars Observer only two days before it was to arrive at Mars. India is not out of the woods yet; the next step, entering Mars orbit, is a tough one, and it comes after 300 days of deep-space operations. But so far, so good. And so far, it is more than India -- or, indeed, most nations -- has ever achieved before.

See other posts from November 2013


Or read more blog entries about: Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), mission status


Ajay Kothari: 11/30/2013 05:30 CST

Good summary. Thanks.

Thank You! And God Bless you : 11/30/2013 07:53 CST

Hi Emily, I have been following your blogs on MOM for some time now and you have been fantastic. They are very well written and sensible. I sincerely thank you for your work. Please keep it up. I am keeping my fingers crossed about the final phase. That probably seems to be the most trickiest of all especially because no real time corrections can be made to the trajectory due to the 11 + 11 minutes delay in communications. Regards, Satya

A couple of questions: 11/30/2013 08:04 CST

Hi Emily, I had a couple of questions which I hope you could answer. 1. Is it safe to assume that in the very worst case that the orbiter fails to be grabbed by mars gravite it will atleast manage to send a few pictures of Mars back? 2. If the satellite does manage to enter the Mars orbit, will it rotate around the Mars forever or will it eventually crash into the red planet or get thrown away into space Thanks in Advance Satya

durga: 11/30/2013 08:09 CST

Keep following your blogs, from the day when I start tracking MOM Mission. Excellent information. Learned new things. Good work!

Rakesh: 11/30/2013 08:47 CST

A hearty Congratulations India and ISRO. Very well done!!! Looking to go into Mars orbit in 2014.

Shashi: 11/30/2013 09:43 CST

Hi Emily, Blog is fantastic. Thanks.

Anonymous: 11/30/2013 09:52 CST

It's an orbiter, so it's going to keep orbiting the red planet, and i believe it should be able to take pictures on its journey all along (at least that's what voyager and others have been doing).

Karna Desai: 11/30/2013 09:52 CST

It's an orbiter, so it's going to keep orbiting the red planet, and i believe it should be able to take pictures on its journey all along (at least that's what voyager and others have been doing).

ravij: 11/30/2013 10:31 CST

Wonderful stuff this...thanks Emily for the perspective...for the benefit of relative laymen like me and all those in international media who have been competing eith each other to point out how many ungry indian kids would 73 million usd feed, can some one list 10 technologies or expertise india gains from mom mission? I meet NGOs and others often who will also benefit...

Venkat: 11/30/2013 11:29 CST

Very detail and clear explanation. .thank you for sharing all the details Emily...

Hari: 12/01/2013 12:56 CST

Hello Emily. Thanks for the detailed explanations of the mars orbiter mission. I have the following questions: 1. What are these additional trajectory corrections planned for? And how critical are they? 2. The mission plans to rotate around mars for 6 months. What happens to the orbiting satellite at the end of the mission? Thanks. Keep up the good work.

Edgar: 12/01/2013 05:59 CST

MOM is right now at a distance of 250.000 km and its S-Band signal is extremely strong. I hope to monitor it up to several Mkm distance. Congratulations to ISRO!

RaghuJoshi: 12/01/2013 08:05 CST

Great article Emily. As an Indian , I am proud of the achievement of ISRO. Nice to know that there is great international positive spotlight on MOM.

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/01/2013 11:02 CST

Will Maven and MOM be travelling at about the same speed when they near Mars for orbit injection burns? If that is so, due to its greater mass, Maven will require greater reverse thrust than MOM. Is it why it is carrying more fuel? What is approximate speed of Maven and MOM as compared to Mars in its orbit around the Sun? Can a Hohmann orbit be designed so that speed at the apoapsis is about same as that of the target space body? I read that Maven will get only one chance to enter Mars orbit but MOM will get more than once. Is this correct? Why would be it be so?

Sunder: 12/01/2013 06:49 CST

A delight to read the the blog. Clear crisp details to digest. Given the cost($$), ISRO's technical know how and learning from other missions(failures & Success) I am sure enough planning has gone in to make this a success. I hope MOM sends pictures on its voyage before it enters the red planet's vicinity. Again your efforts are much appreciated in keeping us all posted. Cheers

vahava: 12/01/2013 11:00 CST hi kaulgi find the req. information from the above link its an animation till 5th december MOM and MAVEN

Victor: 12/02/2013 12:31 CST

Vahava, link was superb, I really got good insights watching the animation.Guys you need to check it out.

Vahava: 12/02/2013 01:01 CST

In his own words:(Sankaranarayanan) Some days back I requested ISRO and NASA JPL to make the MOM orbit data public. They kindly obliged and that is available through a web interface known as JPL HORIZONS. I fetch orbit data from there, calculate the positions, and do the animation. ISRO has shared the most recent data after the TMI with NASA a few hours back and hence I could get this picture. One might also note that NASA's Deep Space Network is also tracking the MOM along with our own.

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/02/2013 05:26 CST

Hi Sankaranarayan: Saw the animation. It appears updated from the one last seen.on 30 Nov 2013. Very well done. Can it be full screen? Are you updating it till the end of mission?

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/02/2013 05:55 CST

Hi Sankaranarayana: Is the animation only in plan view? Can it be converted to 3D view? Is it possible to hide/show the control buttons? The panning - zooming is a bit slow and the video window is small as compared to the screen. A 45D angle from the plane of action may produce a fantastic viewing experience.

Sankaranarayanan KV: 12/02/2013 12:33 CST

Vahava, Victor, and Shreerang - thank you. Glad you liked it. Shreerang - I update the orbit data whenever there is an update at the JPL site. First, JPL published a reference MOM orbit till Sep 2014. This is what I am using in the heliocentric animation. After the TMI, JPL has updated the data so that it is available only till December 11. I use this for the geocentric phase animation. (Note that the first orbital correction in the heliocentric phase is scheduled for Dec 11.) And thank you for the suggestions on the animation! Right now, only 2D is supported. I am planning to support 3D at some time in the future. Thankfully, MOM takes a long time to reach Mars. :-)

Emily Lakdawalla: 12/02/2013 02:52 CST

Hi folks, sorry it's taken me a while to reply to the questions here -- it was a holiday weekend for us in the U.S. and I had to tear myself away from the computer to spend time with family! Satya: I do not know MOM's plans specifically, but it's uncommon for spacecraft to be commanded to operate science instruments during mission-critical events like orbit insertions. Hopefully they will take some photos in the days preceding their arrival at Mars. With its distant orbit from Mars, it will likely stay in orbit at Mars forever, even after it ceases to function. Trajectory correction maneuvers are needed to fine-tune the course toward Mars. They will track its radio signals to determine its orbit, and perform small rocket firings to push the spacecraft closer to its desired course. Ravij, I don't know about specific technologies on MOM, but to learn how NASA space tech development benefits humans on Earth you may want to visit this website: There will be similar benefits from ISRO's work, with the added benefit that India always accomplishes things more cheaply :) Cool animation, Sankaranarayanan!

Shreerang Kaulgi: 12/03/2013 12:34 CST

Saturn has at least two moons which orbit it is nearly same orbit. They catch up each others and switch their orbits for the next round. Can similar thing happen if Maven and MOM miss Mars by a small margin and remain solar orbit very close to Mars orbit.Will theyvisitmars every few rounds again and again?

vyoma: 12/05/2013 04:16 CST

@Ravij, ISRO has technology transfer and spinoff policies. They do transfer their various technologies and inventions to Indian industries and companies, for broader applications and productization. Here are the details of ISRO technology transfer and spinoffs:

Vasant Mohite: 12/05/2013 04:21 CST

For the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO this mission is a propaganda eying towards a much bigger commercial market in economical satellite launches and space exploration. It's much wider than expected. If Mangalyaan achieves glory then very soon ISRO may place international Ads posting 'Send your Pictures or Family Pictures to Moon and Mars' or Titan. Make your cellphone orbit Jupiter. Or Will approach universities to help their new brains launch satellite piggy back on ISRO. Or Coke or Pepsi to advertise in Space, ask viewers to see it with a telescope etc. This is a big market and deeper and much broader in commercial aspects. ISRO will soon be a self sustainable development organisation or may be even profitable one who knows.

Anil Khatik: 12/05/2013 05:21 CST

Yes it is great historical step taken in the Indian history. All credit goes to ISRO. But the mission is being criticized also by a segment of people, here is the detail -

Natesh shahane: 12/05/2013 12:06 CST

very very Important Knowledge Thank you

padiyara: 01/31/2014 03:11 CST

Hi Emily, Delightful narratives. Hope you will find little time to update and improve the animation.Now,Me too started eating peanuts, so she may not find the fate of Nozomi..heehee Thank you.

Siddartha: 02/10/2014 05:58 CST

I must say I am confused at this feat by India while many millions are suffering without food and basic social organization in the country, and is very much lacking. Sure it is a "technological" (in Quotes) feat. Yet as a general comment if I have to say.. while I was at school and studying, most often I used to read the 'Epitome' of the text book first, which made me understand the contents in the lessons faster and in complete. Yes World already has sent Mariner and pioneer etc., to far in to space. Wonder what kind of rich lessons any space agency would learn if they try sending Missions to Jupiter or Saturn or even to Pluto.. and in the course understand Mars etc., and the solar system itself, or even when tried for technologies or foresight to Universe to Understand the Galaxy itself in a nutshell. Vedas spoke it all !

Siddartha: 02/10/2014 07:58 CST

@vyoma: Spinn offs ! How many of these spinns off even if not from space Industry made human life better or organized ? When India has no organized political system how can these spin offs help the common people but push rubbish and rub the other wise natural quality life one would have ? Sure all these spin offs are brining technology into street eeel and amking production and hence also may be micro businesses to thrive. But does it actually improve the Quality of life of common people any bit in last many decades? AT best the space successes might bring foreign currency for cheap space launches and especially for piggy back satellites. And even that Money reach the common people crossing the corrupt political system? Spin offs are obvious in any technical venture, and in space technology they can be more as more money is invested and more faculties are involved at the cost of public. IS there any one Government organization or can there be one that purely works on different technologies without spending much like millions in probing the un known space ? It is India, we don't have to strive for pride by technology but by proving in providing quality life to the down troden and or at least to save all those who die on the streets of Delhi during winters !

siddartha: 02/10/2014 09:47 CST

LOL, India and space technology. I myself was an engineer in ISRO for 10+ years and never found any reason what I am doing and how it is contributing to the Nation India. As a National policy sure it (ISRO) is obligated to employ stipulated number of people for making a small effort. A NATIONAL POLICY. At the same time, for any launch for example, MARS Mission, few years were spent and much money to the employees. Yes we did also Chandrayaan. What is the tangible benefit to the nation ? Even Americans ventured to the moon long back. and we did too, but still have to count Moon in out\r Paachang. Zes Chandrayaan says it found frozen water on teh pole of Moon. Can anyone believe that Americans didn't? Here comes the rigidity of information. The news qickly gets politicized in India and reaches and gets printed in village news papers. The farmers may read it or not but the next hour they have top pick their tools and go the farm as usual as it came since hundreds of years and do the normal farming. At the same time the number of News papers' etc., and including the small group of scientists and politicians make celebrations. And surprisingly the whole advanced technical world looks at these people in awe and confusion. Organize and divert in eradication of political system. Is it possible ? No. No because Indians adopted one translated Constitution from foreign Country but not judicially studied and judged as per the land, culture and the system. But now we are habituated to it and it works and works like this ! What we need is uff many things. Educational system. Not churning out many engineers and technologists from mushrooming colleges. Who, after all, nothing but become like slaves if they go abroad.. or even work in restaurants in India. I wonder, I really wonder, is theer any one software technology that is invented bt\y Indians and the Indian software Engineers are working on that platform? I do not blame west, definitely not.

Siddartha: 02/10/2014 10:01 CST

It is they using few superior minds came out of good educational system who invented all these software and system and Indians and flocking to become the labor to that work. It is not teh westerns' fault surely. Because, They (the system) encourage and get invented the system but then divert their efforts in bettering the common life ! Is there any such outlook among Indian politicians or the system? NO. The system only to give as many licenses to the mushrooming Engineering colleges and churn out students titled Engineers. WHo eventually land as laborers in west or in restaurants of street smart industries in as one said above Spin off companies/Technologies. But the farmer still wakes up at 6 Am, eats his rice soup from night and takes his plough and has to till his farm. O yes, and if at one time if this Central Government makes a big project plan he has to leave that land and live in a city as a labor. MARS ! Chandrayaan, what these multi crore projects actually bring to the common man but for pride )Pride in the hat of ISRO) in comparing with the equal cost what west would spend on such projects ? ANy western university that sends even a piggy bag micro or macro satellite too makes enough thinking and perfectionism and even after that it works enough that enough students gets educated by that technology before launching that satellite on Indian (cheap launch) Launch Vehicle. Wake Up You Indian scientists, and politicians, OR should I mention RadhaKrishnan ?

Siddartha: 02/10/2014 10:08 CST

How many of these scientists and engineers involved can boast that their children are not studying in West and getting work and want them to settle there ? and why ? And how many of these scientists and Engineers doesn't visit Indian temples and Sabari Malai but their children be in USA or in any where in West ? WHY? Is there any correlation between their thught and deed? It is well said in Vedas "trikaranasuddi" (integrity). Being Indians cant they understand what is integrity even if it is in English ? MARS mission.. a pride for awards ! Trust me sir Prime Minister you only can look and if at bring a change ! - Siddartha !

Anonymous: 03/12/2014 02:49 CDT

Nice article Emily... proud to be human being :) soft engg... one day I wud happy to involve in space technology.... Mr.siddharth sir please stop ur boring clear with Ur words in less sentences..

nag: 03/12/2014 02:52 CDT

And my name is nagesh from India :)

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