Ahead of India?s Mangalyaan, NASA?s MAVEN enters Mars orbit

MAVEN 2209Washington/Bangalore (ISJ) ? As Indian space scientists started countdown to their big day, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered the Red Planet's orbit Monday (Sept 22) morning (10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept 21). On the other hand, India?s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) entered the gravitational sphere of influence of Mars at 0930 Hrs today.

MAVEN will now prepare to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere as never done before. It is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.

"As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars' upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s."

After a 10-month journey, confirmation of successful orbit insertion was received from MAVEN data observed at the Lockheed Martin operations centre in Littleton, Colorado, and from tracking data monitored at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) navigation facility in Pasadena, California. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna station in Canberra, Australia.

"MAVEN will complement NASA's other Martian robotic explorers?and those of our partners around the globe?to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth," said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington.

MAVEN will now begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes manoeuvring into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands. MAVEN then will begin its one Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars' upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.

Mars Mission 2209As US space scientists celebrated the successful insertion of MAVEN in Mar's orbit, Indian space scientists started critical operations to fire up the liquid engine of its Mission Spacecraft and conduct final trajectory corrections. This is the most critical phase of the mission as the scientists have to successfully restart the engine after remaining idle for the past over 300 days.

India's first interplanetary spacecraft launched on Nov. 05 was unique in several ways - it is the most cost effective mission ? just 70 million US dollars or Rs. 450 crores, as against 2.5 billion US dollar Curiosity Mission by NASA of United States. Only 21 of 51 Mars missions by USA, European Union and Russia have succeeded so far, while a Chinese mission in 2011 failed to leave Earth?s orbit.

The mission objective of Mangalyaan is to conduct meaningful experiments to look for signs of life on the red planet and study the Martian environment. The launch follows India's successful unmanned mission to the Moon ? Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008. Chandrayaan had sent back evidence of presence of water for the first time.

- NB Nair

Source ? with inputs from NASA

Image courtesy ? NASA/File

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