Emily LakdawallaOct 22, 2013

India's Mars Orbiter Mission now set for November 5 launch date

The launch of ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission has been delayed by about a week due to bad weather in the Indian Ocean. The new launch date is November 5 at 14:36 IST (09:06 UTC / 01:06 PST). Their launch opportunity stretches to November 19. A couple of weeks ago, ISRO put a lot of images on its website showing the assembly of the spacecraft and its launch vehicle: here's one showing the PSLV stacked and waiting for the spacecraft. I put all of the rest of them in an album on Flickr.

Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle assembled and waiting for Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft, October 3, 2013
Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle assembled and waiting for Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft, October 3, 2013 PSLV-C25 after the integration of all its four stages at Moible Service Tower in Sriharikota.Image: ISRO

The weather is not a problem for the launch site; the problem is with two ships that India has deployed to Fiji to perform tracking of the spacecraft after its launch. One of these, Yamuna, has reached Fiji but weather has delayed the other, Nalanda. According to ISRO spokesperson Deviprasad Karnik, the ships must be positioned there in order to track the ignition of the fourth stage and separation of the spacecraft.

The spacecraft was reportedly integrated with the rocket on Sunday, October 20, and the "heat shield" is closed, according to news reports. I am interpreting this to mean the rocket fairing now encapsulates the spacecraft.

Here's a neat detail from a Deccan Herald article:

The rocket will blast off in the afternoon of Nov 5, a Tuesday. In Tamil, Mars planet is called Sevvai Graham and Tuesday is also called Sevvai. In Hindi, Mars is called Mangal and Tuesday is Mangalwar.

An NDTV journalist, Pallava Bagla, has posted several videos of brief interviews of the science team on the Mars Orbiter Mission. Here's one video interview of Ashutosh Arya, the scientist responsible for the Mars Orbiter Mission's color camera. In it, he says they plan to image Mars on approach. Once at Mars, he said, they'll have a close pass by Phobos (at a range of 6000 kilometers), so they hope to image that in addition to their planned imaging of Mars.

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I exchanged emails with Arya to ask whether they will also manage to image Deimos. I'm interested in that question because of the Mars Orbiter Mission's unique elliptical orbit, which will have an apoapsis 80,000 kilometers above the planet. This is far above Deimos' 25,000-kilometer orbit, which means India's spacecraft is the first since the Viking Orbiters that will at least theoretically be capable of imaging the far side of Deimos. Unfortunately, Arya told me, "it's not in our plan so far." That's okay. Just arriving in orbit at Mars with a functioning spacecraft will be, in my view, a signal achievement for India. The rest is gravy. I wish them the best of luck.

Various articles in Asian media have been discussing this spacecraft in a wider context of a "space race with China," suggesting that the push to develop the Mars Orbiter Mission so quickly is a direct result of the launch failure of Phobos-Grunt and its secondary payload, the Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1. There's an excellent article on the Asian space race from the BBC, too. Such competition can serve to drive both success and failure, as the U.S. and U.S.S.R. saw in their own space race.

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