Posts Tagged ‘Mars’

Nasa set to announce detection of flowing water on Mars

September 27, 2015


NASA’s live stream is down (for configuration errors) but Nature Geoscience has released this paper from embargo. (Probably water on the brain)

Spectral evidence for hydrated salts in recurring slope lineae on Mars

Looks like the earlier speculation was correct.

NASA is hyping an announcement to be made tomorrow about Mars.

Press Release:

NASA to Announce Mars Mystery Solved

NASA will detail a major science finding from the agency’s ongoing exploration of Mars during a news briefing at 11:30 a.m. EDT on Monday, Sept. 28 at the James Webb Auditorium at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The event will be broadcast live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

News conference participants will be: 

  • Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA Headquarters
  • Michael Meyer, lead scientist for the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters
  • Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
  • Mary Beth Wilhelm of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California and the Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Alfred McEwen, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) at the University of Arizona in Tucson

A brief question-and-answer session will take place during the event with reporters on site and by phone.

It will probably be connected with this paper to be presented this week at the European Planetary Science Congress. Three of the authors are to be at the Press Announcement. Even if not specifically about this paper the announcement is likely to be about water on Mars.

Recurring slope lineae observed in HiRISE images of Mars. The RSL form on Sun facing slopes during warm season and fade during cold season. image

L Ojha et al, Spectral Evidence for Hydrated Salts in Seasonal Brine Flows on Mars, Vol. 10, EPSC 2015-838-1, 2015 European Planetary Science Congress 2015

AbstractRecurring Slope Lineae (RSL) are seasonal flows on warm Martian slopes initially proposed, but not confirmed, to be caused by briny water seeps. Here we report spectral evidence for hydrated salts on RSL slopes from four different RSL locations from the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars on board Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These results confirm the hypothesis that RSL are due to present-day activity of briny water.

It would suggest that the dark streaks observed periodically on the surface of Mars are caused by the seasonal flow of salt-laden water across the surface. The salt levels would have to be high enough to allow the water to remain liquid long enough to create the streaks before it freezes. Some of the streaks seem to be of the order of several hundred metres in length.

If there actually is sub-surface ice on Mars, then it is not an unthinkable geo-engineering step (terraforming) to achieving a Martian atmosphere which, in time, could contain free oxygen in addition to water vapour and carbon dioxide. It is still not clear how Earth got its Nitrogen which provides a stable ballast and it is unclear if a similar “ballast gas” could be engineered around Mars.

The paper continues:

Pure water would rapidly evaporate and/or freeze on the present-day surface of Mars at most times and places; however brines are far less volatile compared to pure water due to their lower freezing points and evaporation rates. Various salts (e.g. sulfates, chlorides and perchlorates) have been detected on the surface of Mars from remote and in situ investigations. These salts can lower the freezing point of water by up to 80 K, lower the evaporation rate of water by an order of magnitude, and can be hygroscopic (i.e. able to easily absorb atmospheric moisture), thus increasing the possibility of forming and stabilizing liquid water on the surface of present day Mars. Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL) are narrow, low reflectance features forming on present-day Mars that have been hypothesized to be due to the transient flow of liquid water. …. 

and concludes:

The origin of water forming the RSL is not understood, given the extreme aridity of Mars’ surface environment. Water could form by the surface/sub-surface melting of ice, but the presence of near-surface equatorial ice is highly unlikely. Water could also form via deliquescence by hygroscopic salts, although it is unclear how the Martian atmosphere can sufficiently supply water vapor every year to create RSL. The absence of concentrated deliquescent salts would rule out this hypothesis. Another hypothesis is seasonal discharge of a local aquifer, which concentrates salt deposits as the brine evaporates, but then lineae emulating from the tops of local peaks are difficult to explain. It is conceivable that RSL are forming in different parts of Mars via different formation mechanisms. The new compositional insights reported here from widely separated sites provide essential new clues.

Water on Mars not only gives a higher probability of some life-form having existed, or existing, on Mars but also increases the probability of human life coming to exist on Mars. That would be something to be around for, but it will be after I am long gone.


Mysterious high altitude Martian plume — probably manoeuvres of the Earth invasion fleet

February 16, 2015

There is a new paper in Nature:

A. Sánchez-Lavega et al, An extremely high-altitude plume seen at Mars’ morning terminatorNature(2015),


Abstract: ……. Here we report the occurrence in March and April 2012 of two bright, extremely high-altitude plumes at the Martian terminator (the day–night boundary) at 200 to 250 kilometres or more above the surface, and thus well into the ionosphere and the exosphere. …….. They were spotted at a longitude of about 195° west, a latitude of about −45° (at Terra Cimmeria), extended about 500 to 1,000 kilometres in both the north–south and east–west directions, and lasted for about 10 days. The features exhibited day-to-day variability, and were seen at the morning terminator but not at the evening limb, which indicates rapid evolution in less than 10 hours and a cyclic behaviour. We used photometric measurements to explore two possible scenarios and investigate their nature. For particles reflecting solar radiation, clouds of CO2-ice or H2O-ice particles with an effective radius of 0.1 micrometres are favoured over dust. Alternatively, the plume could arise from auroral emission, of a brightness more than 1,000 times that of the Earth’s aurora, over a region with a strong magnetic anomaly where aurorae have previously been detected. Importantly, both explanations defy our current understanding of Mars’ upper atmosphere.

Mars plume

The plume appeared twice in 2012, and stretched for 1,000km (via BBC)


Of course what it really was, was the Martian fleet on manoeuvres.

The fleet consists of millions of minute – by Earth standards – spacecraft. Each carries a strand of aggressive RNA specially tailored to modify the DNA of earth based species. They are due to invade Earth probably in February 2018.

This will be the Third Martian Invasion of Earth. The First Invasion introduced life to Earth. The Second got rid of the dinosaurs who were not performing or evolving to expectations. This Third Invasion is to correct the cumulative errors – as perceived by the Martians – building up in human DNA.

Five Mars orbiters observe from cover as Comet Siding Spring approaches Mars

October 16, 2014

Mars is a crowded place these days and is soon to get another, high-speed, transient visitor.

Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) is approaching Mars and will pass within about 87,000 miles (139,500 kilometers) on Sunday 19th October.

Siding Spring’s nucleus will come closest to Mars around 11:27 a.m. PDT (2:27 p.m. EDT), hurtling at about 126,000 mph (56 kilometers per second). This proximity will provide an unprecedented opportunity for researchers to gather data on both the comet and its effect on the Martian atmosphere. 

Siding Spring came from the Oort Cloud, a spherical region of space surrounding our sun and occupying space at a distance between 5,000 and 100,000 astronomical units. It is a giant swarm of icy objects believed to be material left over from the formation of the solar system.

Siding Spring will be the first comet from the Oort Cloud to be studied up close by spacecraft, giving scientists an invaluable opportunity to learn more about the materials, including water and carbon compounds, that existed during the formation of the solar system 4.6 billion years ago.

Currently NASA has three craft in orbit around Mars (Odyssey, MRO and MAVEN), the European Space Agency has MEX and the Indian Space Research Organisation has MOM. In addition there are two active rovers on the surface of Mars; Opportunity and Curiosity. All the orbiters face a small risk of damage – not so much from Comet Siding Spring itself but from its long dust tail.  The rovers are not considered to be at significant risk since they will be protected by the Martian – albeit very thin – atmosphere. They have been moved to positions to observe.

SkyandTelescope: Such a close encounter means the dust tail left in C/2013 A1’s wake might graze Mars’s upper atmosphere. The smallest particles are only about a half millimeter across, but even these could severely damage a spacecraft when striking at 35 miles per second. Scientists predict that the time of greatest danger for the orbiters will occur about 90 minutes after Comet Siding Spring’s closest approach and last about 20 minutes. 

The three NASA Orbiters and ESA’s MEX have re-positioned themselves and will take shelter on the far side of Mars as the comet flies past. The Indian MOM has very little fuel to expend for any major changes to its orbital path and will just try to get as far away from the dust tail as possible and keep its antennae crossed.

To avoid the threat of Siding Spring’s debris, NASA engineers will manipulate the orbiters’ trajectories so that all three will end up on the opposite side of the planet during the flyby. The MRO team executed one maneuver at the beginning of July, with another planned for the end of August. The Mars Odyssey team took similar steps on August 5th, and the MAVEN team will perform a precautionary maneuver shortly after the spacecraft enters orbit around Mars.

Mars Orbiters 'Duck and Cover' for Comet Siding Spring Encounter

Mars Orbiters ‘Duck and Cover’ for Comet Siding Spring Encounter – NASA

MEX is following the same strategy

The European Space Agency is taking similar precautions to protect its Mars Express (MEX) orbiter. MEX has a highly elliptical orbit that would leave it exposed to Siding Spring’s debris longer than MRO or Odyssey. On June 22nd the MEX team altered the orbiter’s track around the planet so that it will be hidden behind Mars for 27 minutes during the comet’s closest approach.

ISRO’s MOM will not be behind Mars when the comet makes its closest approach to the planet. They do not have the fuel to expend and so will just try and be as far away as possible.

Hindustan Times: We have repositioned the Mars Orbiter, as the comet Siding Spring is expected to be close to the Mars on October 19. We have taken the Orbiter to a position farthest from the tail of the comet so that it doesn’t affect the satellite,” AS Kiran Kumar, director, Space Application Centre, Ahmedabad, said.

Fortunately the latest estimates have reduced the risk of collision somewhat:

ESA: Initial estimates gave the possibility that Mars Express might have to contend with a large particle flux – and that several (2? 3?) very high-speed (~56 km/sec!) particles might bash into the spacecraft. Happily, additional observations by ground and space telescopes (including the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope) have allowed initial estimates to be refined and the risk is now understood to be much lower – and perhaps even as low as zero.

Heigh-ho, ISRO, it’s off to Mars we go

November 30, 2013


Trans-Mars injection has been completed successfully.

  • Trans Mars Injection (TMI) operations completed successfully. The liquid engine burn time was 1328.89 sec and the imparted incremental velocity was 647.96 m/sec.
  • Trans Mars Injection (TMI) operation began at 00:49 hrs (IST) on Sunday Dec 01, 2013.
  • Forward rotation of spacecraft, to put it into the right orientation to perform Trans Mars Injection (TMI) operation has been completed successfully at 00:30 hrs IST on Dec 1, 2013


A big night for ISRO and congratulations are due! And not least for ISRO’s coverage of the event – almost live – on their Facebook page. (I have not been too enamoured of the ISRO website but somebody did a great job on the live updates).

The Indian Mars Orbiter (Mangalyaansuccessfully completed its final burn in earth orbit and has been inserted into a Trans Mars Trajectory (to be confirmed). It may just be one small step in Man’s exploration of space but it is a giant leap for ISRO. After spending a month in 6-ever increasing orbits around Earth the craft now has a 300 day journey to get to Mars with the possibility of 3 mid-course corrections before the liquid engine has to be fired up again to enter into orbit around Mars.

So far, so good!

A number of “firsts” for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and, no matter what may now happen, a great many accomplishments already in the bag. The lack of a sufficiently powerful rocket necessitated that the craft first enter earth orbit and then the month-long, laborious compared to NASA, procedures where the space craft engine had to be used  to first to increase the earth orbits and then – tonight – be fired for an extended time (23 minutes) to be inserted into a heliocentric Trans Mars Trajectory.

Mission Operations Complex ISTRAC  Bangalore.

Mission Operations Complex ISTRAC Bangalore.


One hour before the final engine firing the craft was put under the control of its on-board computer which was to carry out the final burn. Forward rotation of the spacecraft to put it into the right orientation for the burn was carried out and completed about 20 minutes before firing. Engine firing started on schedule just before the craft reached perigee. The actual burn of the 440 N Liquid Engine lasted its planned 23 minute long firing entirely under local on-board computer control. The objective was to impart an incremental velocity of 648 m/s and the indications are that that was achieved. The engine firing manoeuver seems to have gone exactly to plan. The orbit determination team have now to confirm now confirmed the trajectory actually achieved.

The new heliocentric orbit is yet to be confirmed. confirmed

The ISRO chorus (with apologies to Walt Disney)

Heigh-ho, ISRO

It’s off to Mars we go

We keep on working all day long

Heigh-ho, ISRO 

Photo: Liquid Engine propels MOM into Mars Transfer Trajectory and India into interplanetary space !Trans-Mars injection has been completed successfully.

Liquid Engine propels MOM into Mars Transfer Trajectory and India into interplanetary space !Trans-Mars injection has been completed successfully. ISRO


Moment of truth approaches for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

November 28, 2013

When everything is for the first time,achievements are incremental and there are very many critical “moments of truth” to meet and overcome. But now comes a very large “moment of truth” as ISRO prepares to inject the Mars Orbiter spacecraft into its Trans Mars Trajectory.

India’s Mars Orbiter (Mangalyaan) is currently in its final orbit around the earth and is scheduled to fire its 440 Newton liquid engine at 0049 hours IST on Sunday morning ( 1919 GMT Saturday 30th November).  It entered its final Earth orbit yesterday which has an orbital period of 5575 minutes (just under 4 days) and it should be approaching apogee later tonight (early hours of Friday morning) and the next engine burn will take place at perigee. Currently apogee is about 193,000 km from earth and perigee is around 350km.

The spacecraft must first be manoeuvred into the right attitude using its thrusters for the firing of its main engine which must then be fired to impart the correct change of velocity (delta-vee). Both, an incorrect attitude and/or an incorrect delta-vee are potential sources of error. Three mid-course corrections are planned  (the first on December 11th) but the margin of error allowable is still extremely small. Too low a velocity change could leave the craft in earth orbit or put it into a heliocentric orbit which does not get close enough to Mars. Too high a delta-vee would also put the craft into a heliocentric orbit which would eventually decay into the sun. I believe there is no chance of achieving a velocity high enough to escape the sun. And even if the velocity change is correct but the direction is too far in error then just another orbital path around the sun would result.

NDTV:“The trans-Mars injection- we are planning to depart on December 1, 2013 early hours of 00:49 hours IST and we are going to burn a liquid engine for duration of roughly 23 minutes which will impart an incremental velocity of 648 metres per second consuming a fuel of 198 kgs,” ISRO Scientific Secretary V Koteswara Rao told reporters in Bangalore.

K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO Chairman. (For the) trans-Mars injection and its insertion into the Martian orbit, the firing of the liquid engine is done in a closed loop mode. Here, a precision accelerometer is used to estimate the incremental velocity added as the liquid engine burns and when the accelerometer gives a feedback that the required incremental velocity added to the spacecraft has been achieved, the burning of the liquid engine is automatically terminated. So, minor variations in the performance of the liquid engine will not matter because we are cutting off its burning based on the delta-v that is achieved. That is why we call it closed loop of firing. … The spacecraft’s propulsion system, i.e., the 440 Newton liquid engine, will complete its first phase of operations on December 1. It has to be re-started for its operation on September 24 (2014).

MOM Trans Mars Injection ISRO

MOM Trans Mars Injection ISRO

ISRO: This voyage is achieved by a combination of navigation and propulsion technologies, governed by the gravity of Sun and Mars, and assisted by the 440 N Liquid engine. Further fine tuning of the trajectory is achieved using the Attitude and Orbit Control Thrusters during the Trajectory Correction maneuvers planned en route.

… on December 11, we plan to have one small firing for mid-course correction of the spacecraft. There may be one more mid-course correction during the helio-centric phase, and subsequently, a fortnight before the spacecraft’s arrival near Mars, there will be one more mid-course correction. So there will be three mid-course corrections between December 1, 2013 and September 24, 2014. 

Mangalyaan is eventually to be placed into a Martian orbit, with a periapsis height of 365 km, apoapsis height of 80,000 km and an orbital period of about 77 hours.

So on Saturday I shall have as many of my fingers crossed as I can manage. I suspect there will be many others doing the same across India.

Political statues in India cost more than the Mars Orbiter Mission

November 24, 2013

A very critical moment for the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) comes a week from today when the spacecraft’s engine has to be fired as it reaches perigee in its Earth orbit, to insert  it into  a trajectory to reach Mars some 10 months later.

The Mission has been criticised both in the West and in India (here and here for example) as being too expensive, too elitist and the wrong priority for a developing country like India. I think such criticism misses the point. The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission is primarily a test of technology and capability and self-confidence and self-belief”. The cost pales in comparison with the spend on religious festivities and what other much less productive projects can cost. As an example of what frugal engineering can achieve, the inspiration and ingenuity it can foster is immeasurable.

Manoj KumarPatairiya writes in the New York Times:

If the Mars Orbiter successfully reaches the vicinity of the planet in September 2014, after 300 days’ journey into deep space, it will make India the first Asian country and the fourth in the world to reach the red planet. …. The mission has, however, started an intense debate. While its supporters trumpet its incredibly low cost of around $75 million (a fraction of the cost of a similar American expedition), critics question the logic behind spending any amount when India is dealing with such deep-rooted problems as widespread hunger, poverty and corruption. ……. 

But U. R. Rao, a former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, compared the $75 million spent on the mission to the amount Indians spend on Diwali crackers for one day: “For going all the way to Mars, just one-tenth of the money is being spent. So, why are they shouting?”

Part of the reason the mission is so much less expensive is that it is able to take advantage of existing deep space communications systems and navigation support from NASA. But India is becoming known for its low-cost innovations in many diverse fields, including health care, renewable energy, sanitation, mobile technology and tablet computers. Indian scientists like to share this anecdote: “Americans spent millions to develop a pen that will not leak in space, whereas Russians used a pencil!”

The cost of the Indian Mars mission is about $75 million and just to put it into perspective:

  • Mayawati’s park in Noida was constructed at the cost of $130 million, and has 24 huge statues of elephants, and one of herself.
  • the total cost to build the Narendra Modi sponsored “Statue of Unity” is estimated to be about $340 million

Politicians will of course argue that the “feel-good” effects generated by such monuments to themselves or their heroes are well worth the cost!

If the MOM succeeds in its main objectives, there is even a case for using the window that is coming in 2018 to attempt a manned trip around Mars and back in 501 days.

A private, auspicious trip to Mars and back

November 20, 2013

I don’t believe in Astrology but 5th January 2018 is a particularly auspicious and propitious date for a quick jaunt to Mars and back. And billionaire Denis Tito plans to take advantage of the advantageous alignment of Mars and Earth to make the first manned trip to Mars and back. It would be a “free-return” trajectory so the couple making the trip would only fly around Mars and return to a landing on Earth 501 days after they left.

InspirationMars: The mission’s target launch date is Jan. 5, 2018. This exceptionally quick, free-return orbit opportunity occurs twice every 15 years. After 2018, the next opportunity won’t occur again until 2031. The mission will provide a platform for unprecedented science, engineering and education opportunities, using state-of-the-art technologies derived from NASA and the International Space Station. It will be financed primarily through philanthropic donations, with some potential support from government sources.

The closest distance between Mars and Earth varies by almost a factor of two over an 18 year period. Note that 1 AU (Astronomical Unit) is the average distance between the Sun and the Earth (about 150 million kilometers). NASA

Inspiration Mars Press Release: 

Dennis Tito, founder and chairman of the Inspiration Mars Foundation, testified today before the House Science Subcommittee on Space during a hearing on commercial space. Tito shared the results of a 90-day study undertaken by Inspiration Mars and developed through collaborative efforts with
NASA centers and industry partners to define a baseline architecture for a human mission to Mars. The
Foundation proposes to send a spacecraft in late 2017 or early 2018 bearing two astronauts, a man and
woman, to the far side of Mars and return them to Earth. ….. Inspiration Mars’ Architecture Study Report describes the proposed mission architecture to enable the voyage of 314 million miles in 501 days, which requires collaboration through a public-private partnership with NASA. The plan calls for two launches to keep crew and cargo separate, an inherent safety feature to the mission architecture. First, the SLS will lift off from Kennedy Space Center with a four-part payload to place cargo into Earth’s orbit, consisting of: an SLS upper-stage rocket to propel spacecraft from Earth’s orbit to Mars; a service module containing electrical power, propulsion and communication systems; a Cygnus-derived habitat module where the astronauts will live for 501 days; and an Earth Reentry Pod derived from Orion. The second launch will take the crew into orbit aboard a commercial transportation vehicle (selected from competing designs under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program). From there, the crew and Inspiration Mars vehicle stack will rendezvous in orbit using docking procedures perfected by more than 130 trips to the International Space Station. ….

Tito noted there is a window for a mission by a different trajectory, a mission longer by 88 days that could be flown in 2021. Tito stated, “Given Russia’s clear recognition of the value and prestige of accomplishments in human space exploration, and their long-time interest in exploring Mars, my personal belief is that in all likelihood the Energia super-heavy rocket revival announcement signals Russian intent to fly this mission in 2021. Their heavy lift rocket, along with their other designs for modules and the Soyuz, can fly this mission with modest upgrades to their systems. China is also developing suitable capabilities and must surely be contemplating this opportunity to be first to Mars. It is our civic duty to bring this to the attention of the executive and legislative government branches. The 2010 NASA authorization has given America the opportunity to be first to Mars, and we believe it should be taken by launching the mission to Mars in 2017.”

Fast Free return trajectories between Earth and Mars occur twice every 15 years:

Low energy Free Returns with TOFS around 3 years (or less) are plentiful and occur every synodic period. Higher energy Free Returns with TOFS around 2 years are also plentiful and occur synodically. Of particular interest are fast Free Returns which occur in 2015 and 2017 and have the shortest TOF of about 1.4 years. These trajectories may provide a timely opportunity for the first human mission to Mars.

File:Inspiration Mars trajectory.svg

Inspiration Mars trajectory: Wikimedia

“Practical schemes for sending humans to Mars have been on the drawing boards for more than 60 years. Pioneering space engineer Wernher von Braun, author of the 1952 book “Project Mars,” proposed Mars flyby flights using Apollo lunar spacecraft in the 1960s.”

Smooth MAVEN launch followed by flawless insertion into Mars trajectory

November 18, 2013

A very smooth launch by NASA and lift-off exactly as planned.

And with the power of the Atlas V, just 52 minutes 42 seconds after launch MAVEN had separated from the launch vehicle and had been inserted into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit and on trajectory to reach Mars on 22nd September 2014.


At 1:28 p.m. EST, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft began its 10-month journey to Mars orbit, launching aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. MAVEN will take critical measurements of the Martian upper atmosphere to help scientists understand climate change over the Red Planet’s history.

The Centaur’s single RL-10A-4-2 engine ended its second burn on time. The next major milestone is the release of NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft.

Separation! Maven is now on its own.

Very smooth and absolutely flawless.

In the meantime the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission’s Mangalyaan has another 13 days in Earth orbit in its current orbit (193,000 km apogee) before one more burn of its motors puts it also into a Hohmann Transfer Orbit which should get it to Mars orbit on 24th September 2014. Spacecraft systems – most being operated for the first (or second) time – will be tested while in earth orbit.

The “poor man’s route” to Mars!

And India and ISRO have some 49 years of US NASA Mars missions to catch up to.

And while NASA is showing live feed of the launch, ISRO’s web-site is down – presumably because it could not handle the traffic. The FB page seems fine.

isro down 20131118

isro down 20131118

Alternate paths to Mars: NASA’s MAVEN compared to India’s MOM

November 16, 2013

Update! 18th November 2013. The launch of MAVEN – in about 1 hour from now – can be seen live on NASA TV.

The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission is primarily a test of technology and capability and self-confidence and self-belief.

With a very limited budget.

The scientific investigations of the planet and the Martian atmosphere are only a secondary or even a tertiary objective. For the Indian mission everything is virtually for the first time. For NASA and the US, the MAVEN mission which is due to launch on Monday 18th November is the 15th Mission to Mars. The first mission (Mariner 3) failed and the second mission, Mariner 4, launched in November 1964 was the first to reach Mars. In the 49 years since there have been a few failures (Mariner 8 in 1971, Mars Observer 1992, Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 and the Mars Polar lander/Deep Space2 in 1999) and some spectacular successes for NASA with the Mars Global Surveyor in 1996 , the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2007 and the Mars Rover in 2011.

Many Mars missions have failed. Between 1960 and 1971 the Russians (USSR) failed in 11 attempts to send a spacecraft to the vicinity of Mars. The 12th attempt with M-71 in 1971 succeeded in orbiting Mars. Of eight further attempts by Russia, 4 failed to reach Mars. The Japanese Nozomi failed while cruising. Two European missions led to one orbiter (but a failed landing) and one flyby.

On the surface they may both seem to be similar in that both are attempting to get a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. But the missions are, in reality, quite different. MOM is essentially a first-time test of technology and capability whereas MAVEN is primarily a scientific mission utilising the deployment of now well proven US technology. Technology development on the one hand and a scientific investigation on the other.

1. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) is a space probe designed to study the Martian atmosphere while orbiting MarsIndia’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM – “Mangalyaan”) is a space probe designed to explore Mars’ surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere using indigenous scientific instruments while orbiting Mars.

2. MAVEN is expected to have a budget of about $672 million. MOM has a budget of about $70 million.

3. The Atlas 5 rocket to be used to launch MAVEN has the capability to lift about 7,000 kg directly into a Geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This allows MAVEN (2500 kg) to be injected directly into a Trans-Mars trajectory from launch.

The PSLV to be used for MOM can lift about 1300 kg into a GTO. With the MOM having a mass of 1337 kg, it becomes necessary for a  launch first into earth orbit and then a multi-step transition  through ever increasing earth orbits and finally into a Trans-Mars trajectory.

4. MAVEN is due to launch on an Atlas 5 rocket at 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT) on Monday (Nov. 18) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Within one hour of launch MAVEN will be in a Hohmann Transfer Orbit with periapsis at Earth’s orbit and apoapsis at the distance of the orbit of Mars. MAVEN should reach Mars orbit on 22nd September 2014.

MAVEN trajectory - NASA-LASP-JPL

MAVEN trajectory – NASA-LASP-JPL

Because of the relatively low payload capability of the PSLV for an interplanetary mission MOM will spend more than four weeks in earth orbit and has to be equipped with radiation shielding to endure the numerous passages through earth’s radiation Belts. MOM has fired its Liquid Motor six times – always when passing perigee to gradually increase the apogee of the orbit to work its way up to departing Earth orbit in a fuel-efficient manner. The sixth (including one correction) firing yesterday placed the spacecraft in a 600 by approx 193,000 kilometer orbit around Earth and sets up the proper perigee passage for the final engine burn that puts the vehicle onto its Trans-Martian Trajectory using s standard Hohmann Transfer Orbit on 30th November/ 1st December. MOM should reach Mars orbit on 24th September 2014 (2 days after MAVEN).

mangalyaan trajectory

mangalyaan trajectory

5. MAVEN’s body has a cubical shape of about 2.3 m x 2.3 m x 2 m high, spans a total of 11.4 m with its solar panels deployed and has a lift-off mass of  2,454 kg (including fuel) and has a dry payload of 903 kg.

Mangalyaan’s body is a cuboid measuring about 1.5 m per side, a span of 4.2 m with solar panels deployed and an initial mass of 1337 kg of which 852 kg is fuel.



6. MAVEN is carrying 8 main, highly sophisticated instruments. Neutral Gas and Ion Mass SpectrometerImaging Ultraviolet SpectrographMagnetometerSolar Wind Electron AnalyzerSupraThermal And Thermal Ion CompositionLangmuir Probe and Waves antennaSolar Energetic ParticlesSolar Wind Ion Analyzer

Mangalyaan is carrying a camera, two spectrometers, a radiometer and a photometer. Together, they have a weight of about 15 kg.

7. MAVEN is targeting a science orbit of 150 by 6,200 Kilometers at an inclination of 75 degrees. It will perform measurements from a highly elliptical orbit around Mars over a period of one Earth year, with five “deep dips” at 150 km minimum altitude to sample the upper atmosphere.

Mangalyaan will be much further out and targets an operational orbit of 365 by 80,000 Kilometers with an inclination of 150 degrees and a duration of 76.72 hours from where it will perform its science mission. The MOM mission in Mars orbit is open-ended and is expected to last about 160 days.

8. MAVEN’s science phase features regular communication sessions. The spacecraft points its High Gain Antenna at Earth for high data rate communications twice per week with the exact timing depending on Deep Space Network visibility. Those comm sessions take place on Tuesday and Friday and have a duration of eight hours during which at least five hours of Earth pointing are required to downlink all science data and housekeeping telemetry. 

Mangalyaan is equipped with a 2.2-meter diameter High Gain Antenna which is a parabolic X-Band reflector antenna that is used for data downlink and command uplink. Science data and spacecraft telemetry is stored in two 16Gb Solid State Recorders aboard the vehicle for downlink during regular communications sessions. Low and Medium Gain Antennas are used for low-bandwidth communications such as command uplink and systems telemetry downlink.

As missions go, MAVEN represents a Mercedes “S” class to the Volkswagen that is MOM.

Mangalyaan - MOM (ISRO)

Mangalyaan – MOM (ISRO)


Final Mars Orbiter orbit increase successfully completed 15th November 2110 CET

November 15, 2013

ISRO has announced via Facebook that the next burn to raise the earth orbit (apogee) to close to 200,000 km will be carried out at 0127 IST (2057 CET 15th November). If this goes as planned the next manoeuver is expected to be to inject the probe into a Trans-Mars trajectory on 1st December.

2130 CET: Just reported to have been successfully completed The observed change in Apogee is from 118642 km to 192874 km”.

Updates here as they become available.


  • 2045 CET Forward rotation to prepare for burn completed. 
  • 2058 CET: 440N Liquid Engine started firing to raise the apogee to about 192,000 km in this 5th Manoeuver
  • Craft at perigee. Awaiting post burn report.
  • 2110 Burn reported completed
  • It may be a while before tracking data can confirm the new orbit
  • The fifth orbit raising manoeuvre of Mars Orbiter Spacecraft, starting at 01:27:00 hrs (IST) on Nov 16, 2013, with a burn Time of 243.5 seconds has been successfully completed.The observed change in Apogee is from 118642km to 192874km.


Tonight is going to be the culmination of the various baby steps MOM has been taking by gradually soaring to higher apogees around Mother Earth. This manoeuver, scheduled at 01:27 hrs IST, will take the spacecraft to – almost half the way to moon – about two lakh (200,000) kilometers.

The distance to the moon is 384,400 km (and I make 200,000 to be a little more than half-way)!

mangalyaan final earth orbit increase - isro

mangalyaan final earth orbit increase – isro

At this distance Deep Space Tracking will become necessary.

The Indian Deep Space Network consists of a 18-m and a 32-m antennae that are established at the IDSN campus, Byalalu, Bangalore. The Network is augmented with a couple of stations in the western hemisphere in addition to the 64-m antenna in Bearslake, Russia to improve the visibility duration and to provide support from the antipodal point. …..

External network stations APL, JPL (Goldstone, Canberra, Madrid), Hawaii, Brazil (Alcantara, Cuiaba) are requisitioned in for the purpose of extended visibility of Launch and Early Orbit Phase (LEOP) operations, as well as to gain the near continuous visibility during the normal phase operations. All the external stations will ensure the required compatibility to communicate with the spacecraft.

The network as used for Chandrayaan and expected to be used for Mangalyaan is shown below.

Indian Deep Space Network used for Chandrayaan - isro

Indian Deep Space Network used for Chandrayaan – isro

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