NEW DELHI — India successfully launched its first Mars orbiter on Nov. 5.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was boosted by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C25), standing about 44 meters tall and weighing nearly 320 tons. Liftoff took place at 2:38 p.m. local time from the Sriharikota spaceport in south India, according to Deviprasad Karnik, a senior scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
The PSLV delivered the spacecraft into Earth’s orbit 45 min. after launch.
The rocket “placed the Mars Orbiter spacecraft very precisely into an elliptical orbit around Earth,” ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan says. The orbiter subsequently deployed its solar panels, he added.
In the next 10 days, the spacecraft will raise its apogee to 200,000 km (124,000 mi.) via six engine burns, gaining enough speed to exit the Earth’s gravitation, before it slingshots toward the red planet on Dec. 1 for a scheduled insertion into Mars orbit on Sept. 22, 2014.
The mission marks the 25th PSLV flight. It is also the fifth flight of the XL variant, which is the most powerful in the PSLV stable and the same variant used to launch India’s Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon.
The orbiter will be tracked by a ground station in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, and by two ships in the Pacific. Originally slated for Oct. 28, the launch was put on hold when one of the ships was delayed by bad weather in the South Pacific.
The Mars probe, christened “Maangalyaan,” (meaning Mars craft) will study the thin Martian atmosphere to determine its sustainability for life using its suite of five instruments. The mission’s cost is 4.5 billion rupees ($80.7 million).
Among the payloads for the mission is the Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer, designed to study the Martian atmosphere, and a sensor for detecting methane, considered a potential signature for life. The mission will try to determine whether the source of methane is thermogenic or biogenic.
is supporting the mission by providing communications and navigation support via its Deep Space Network facilities.
India is the sixth country to launch a mission to Mars.
Defense analyst Ajay Lele of the New Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses says a successful Mars mission would overshadow some of the Indian space program’s recent failures, especially concerning the development of its heavy-lift Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has experienced multiple failures.