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India test fires Mars spacecraft engine – after nine months

isroBangalore, Sep 22 India Monday successfully “woke up” from nine-month slumber the engine of Mars spacecraft as it glided through deep space, and also became the first Asian country to enter the Martian sphere of influence.

“The main liquid apogee motor (LAM) was test fired at 2.30 p.m. for nearly four seconds and we got a confirmation of its success 12.5 minutes later,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientific secretary V. Koteshwara Rao told IANS here.

About 500 gm of the liquid fuel was used for test firing the engine.

India also became the first Asian country to enter the Martian sphere of influence after the spacecraft swung into the gravitational pull of the red planet at 9 a.m. Monday.

“Our navigators’ calculation shows that our Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has entered the gravitational sphere of influence of Mars around 9 a.m. today (Monday),” the space agency said on the mission’s progress in its Facebook updates.

“We have also successfully conducted the fourth course (trajectory) correction of the spacecraft to ensure its smooth insertion into the Martian orbit Wednesday at 7.30 a.m. from sun orbit using the LAM,” Rao said from the mission’s control centre at the space agency’s telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac), 20 km from this tech hub.

The orbit insertion will take place when the spacecraft will be 423 km from the Martian surface and 215 million km away (radio distance) from the earth.

“The spacecraft’s velocity (speed) has been reduced to 2.14 metres per second from 22.2 km per second to ensure the Orbiter does not escape the Mars’ sphere of influence and facilitate its transition into the Martian orbit,” Rao pointed out.

India will be the first country in the world to insert a spacecraft into the Martian orbit in a maiden attempt, if the operation succeeds Sep 24.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to witness the historic occasion from the mission control centre here.

The 475-kg (dry mass) Orbiter spacecraft with five scientific experiments onboard will explore the fourth planet away from the Sun.

The Rs.450-crore ($70 million) ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched Nov 5, 2013, on board a polar rocket from spaceport Sriharikota off Bay of Bengal, about 80 km northeast of Chennai.

The state-run ISRO will be the fourth space agency after National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US, Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA), and the European Space Agency to have undertaken Mission to Mars.

As the second smallest celestial body in the solar system, Mars is also known as red planet due to the presence of iron oxide in abundance, giving it a reddish appearance.

Though both the Earth and Mars have equal period of revolution around their axis, Mars takes slightly more – 24 hours and 37 minutes – to complete a revolution. The Earth takes 365 days to orbit sun while Mars takes 687 days to move around sun.

“Mars sways human imagination like no other planet in the solar system because its conditions are believed to be hospitable as it is similar to the Earth in many ways,” ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan told IANS in an interview recently.

Mars mission is a major step forward in our space programme and a turning point for us, as India will foray into the vast inter-planetary space for the first time with an indigenous spacecraft to demonstrate our technological capabilities,” Radhakrishnan asserted.

Co-incidentally, America’s spacecraft Maven (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also entered the Martial orbit in early hours of Monday after a 10-month 442-million mile journey from the Earth to explore the red planet’s upper atmosphere, its history and climate for human expeditions in future.

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