MOM completes 1000 Earth days, has enough fuel to last 'more years'

NEW DELHI: India’s Mars orbiter, launched in 2013, was expected to last six months or 180 days after reaching its destination. But having completed four years and 1,000 Earth days in orbit on Monday, the spacecraft shows no signs of fatigue, continuing to relay back a mass of images and data, each contributing to better understanding of the red planet.

With the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) going way beyond the space agency’s expectations, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman A S Kiran Kumar told TOI, “The Orbiter is working and we are still getting inputs from the payload.”

After its launch on November 5, 2013 by the PSLV-C25 rocket, the spacecraft travelled to the red planet for nine months and entered the Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 in its very first attempt.

Dr K Sivan of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said, “The spacecraft is in good health. The orbiter when launched carried with it 852 kg of fuel load. It now has approximately 13-14 kg of fuel left that will extend its life further.”

Isro said that 1,000 Earth days correspond to 973.24 Mars Sols (Martian Solar day) and the MOM completed 388 orbits. “The long life of the spacecraft indicates two things: first, there was no fuel leakage and second, the orbiter withstood all the rigours of the difficult journey,” Dr Sivan said, adding, “the experience we gathered from the mission will help us plan other interplanetary missions better.”

On the lunar and solar missions, he said, “Chandrayaan-2 is “scheduled to be launched in the first quarter of 2018 (around March-April) and the Aditya (sun) mission in 2018-19. Work on both the interplanetary missions is going on”.

The Rs 450-crore mission—billed as one of the cheapest ever—was launched to study the Martian surface and mineral composition, and scan its atmosphere for methane, an indicator of life outside earth.

The spacecraft has five key scientific instruments. One of the payloads, the Mars colour camera, has produced more than 715 images so far, the space agency said.

It was, however, not a smooth journey for the orbiter. It had faced many hurdles during the mission as it had to go through a communication ‘blackout’ as a result of solar conjunction from June 2, 2015 to July 2. It had also experienced the “whiteout” geometry (when the earth is between the sun and Mars and too much solar radiation may make it impossible to communicate with the earth) during May 18 to May 30, 2016. With 14-15 kg of fuel remaining, Isro is expecting the orbiter to last for some “more years”.

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