Srinivas LaxmanOct 01, 2014

Mars Orbiter Mission activates all science instruments as NASA, ISRO form joint Mars working group

Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) began its science activities fully on Wednesday with all five science instruments being activated. The Mars Colour Camera was first, on September 24, and has been beaming a number of images of the Red Planet since then. On Wednesday it posted an anaglyph 3D image of Mars generated using two pictures.

After the camera came the Methane Sensor For Mars, the Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer and the Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser. And on Wednesday, the Lyman Alpha Photometer started operating.

Kiran Kumar, Director of ISRO's Space Application Centre, said that there will be one round of observation prior to the arrival of Comet Siding Spring in Mars on October 19, and one after it departs. Thereafter, the plan envisages carrying out closer observations of the Red Planet. This means one has to wait for in depth studies until after the comet leaves.

"Everything is now going on smoothly," he said. Soon after the science mission of MOM began the spacecraft tweeted:

The data is first transmitted to the Canberra Deep Space Network and from there it reaches the Indian Space Science Data Centre at Byalalu off the Bangalore-Mysore highway. Kumar said that in the days ahead the data will be sent to the principal investigators for further analysis.

Of the five payloads, scientists in particular are waiting to hear what the Methane Sensor For Mars will say because of the contradictory information till now. In fact a report in the October issue of Planex -- the official journal of the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory, an ISRO affiliate -- focused on the importance of resolving the controversy surrounding methane on Mars, and hopes that MOM's Methane Sensor For Mars will do the needful.

The Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA) will carry out an analysis of the Martian upper atmosphere and exosphere. Information from this payload is expected to be analysed along with the one generated by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft.

This is of significance because on Tuesday an ISRO-NASA Mars working group was formed which will "seek to identify and implement scientific and technological goals that NASA and ISRO have in common regarding Mars exploration."

NASA, ISRO sign joint working agreement
NASA, ISRO sign joint working agreement NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan signing documents in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2014 to launch a joint Earth-observing satellite mission and establish a pathway for future joint missions to explore Mars.Image: NASA

One of the working group's objectives will be to explore "potential co-ordinated observations and science analysis between Maven and MOM," the ISRO-NASA charter states. This augments NASA's support for MOM through the Deep Space Network.

The announcement of the formation of the joint Mars working group was timed to coincide with a declaration by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama during their summit in Washington on Tuesday that a possibility of a joint mission to the Red Planet will be explored.

The joint working group could also analyse data from the Lyman Alpha Photometer, because it will investigate the loss process of water in the Martian atmosphere -- something quite similar to the scientific objectives of MAVEN.

Former ISRO chairman U. R. Rao welcomed the formation of the joint working group as he believes it will boost scientific studies of both countries.

Will provide updates when I get them. Stay tuned!

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