Pradeep Mohandas emailed me last night with a link to an article published in today's Times of India with a progress update on India's 2013 Mars mission. Evidently the Liquid Apogee Motor -- the spacecraft's main engine -- is already built and is now undergoing testing. (This suggests to me that the mission was already being developed before it was announced in August, but I'm no expert in spacecraft design and construction, so I wouldn't really know.)
The brief article has various other details about the mission plan, some of which are news to me:
- The October or November 2013 launch will place Mangalyaan into Earth orbit.
- Six engine firings will raise that orbit to one with an apogee of 215,000 kilometers and a perigee of 600 kilometers.
- On November 26, 2013, a final firing will send Mangalyaan onto an interplanetary trajectory.
- Mars Orbit Insertion is planned for September 21, 2014.
The article concludes "An Isro official said the real challenge in the mission is that the engine has to restart after 300 days when the orbiter enters the Martian orbit." This is certainly true; it's a challenge that ISRO has yet to face, and it will definitely be a key moment in the mission. It's also a challenge that neither of the other two Asian space powers -- China and Japan -- have yet accomplished. Really, just arriving at Mars with an operational spacecraft would be a singular achievement; anything after that is gravy.
I wish I had better artwork of Mangalyaan than this...hopefully someone will spot something in Indian media and forward it to me. Or maybe one of you talented readers skilled in 3D modeling could throw something together.