User man­ual man­galyaan

In­dia’s first Mars or­biter, also known as the Mars Or­biter Mis­sion, de­fines ‘cheap and cheer­ful’ in space ex­plo­ration

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The space­craft or­bit­ing Mars that de­fines ‘cheap and cheer­ful’

On 5 Novem­ber 2013 the ISRO launched its maiden in­ter­plan­e­tary mis­sion to Mars. This was an in­cred­i­ble feat not only for In­dia, cer­ti­fy­ing its po­si­tion as a se­ri­ous pres­ence in space, but for space travel, prov­ing that a task like this can be com­pleted on a rel­a­tively cheap bud­get.

At the tip of a PSLV-C25 rocket, car­ry­ing 12 tonnes of pro­pel­lant, was In­dia’s Mars Or­biter Mis­sion, also re­ferred to as Man­galyaan, which means ‘Mars-craft’ in Hindi. Af­ter com­plet­ing the 667-mil­lion-kilo­me­tre (414-mil­lion-mile) jour­ney through space over the course of just over ten months Man­galyaan was in­serted into the or­bit of Mars, and In­dia re­joiced at its first in­ter­plan­e­tary craft be­ing suc­cess­ful. Al­though the space­craft's pri­mary ob­jec­tive was to ex­plore and study the sur­face of the Red Planet, it also aimed to de­velop and test the tech­nolo­gies needed for a in­ter­plan­e­tary mis­sion and prove it could be done – hence the ex­cite­ment upon its suc­cess­ful ar­rival. Its sci­en­tific pay­load was equipped with five in­stru­ments keen to send back vi­tal data from mil­lions of miles away.

Man­galyaan has re­ceived much praise due to its ef­fi­cient de­sign and cost-ef­fec­tive ex­e­cu­tion. The mis­sion only had a to­tal cost of £47 mil­lion ($74 mil­lion) which, con­sid­er­ing that the block­buster film The Mar­tian had a bud­get of £82 mil­lion

($108 mil­lion), shows it can ac­tu­ally be cheaper to go to Mars than make a film about it! In fact, NASA’s MAVEN or­biter that ar­rived at Mars around the same time cost over 11-times as much. This in­cred­i­ble cost ef­fi­ciency was achieved in part by keep­ing the space­craft small and light, with the sci­en­tific pay­load weigh­ing about 15 kilo­grams (33 pounds). A light pay­load means less money spent on fuel for take­off and the jour­ney it­self. A lot of the cost sav­ing was due to the hard work in In­dia, as here labour costs are lower than their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts and the coun­try also pri­ori­tises home­grown com­po­nents and tech­nolo­gies.

Since Man­galyaan ar­rived at Mars it has con­sis­tently been busy at work and has sur­passed its planned six-month life­time by an im­pres­sive mar­gin. How­ever, dur­ing this time the or­biter has en­coun­tered some ‘black­outs’ and ‘white­outs’. A blackout oc­curs when Mars is be­hind the Sun from Earth’s po­si­tion, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to in­ter­act with the or­biter for a time, whereas a white­out oc­curs when Earth is be­tween the Sun and Mars and there is too much ra­di­a­tion to com­mu­ni­cate. Luck­ily Man­galyaan had the au­ton­omy to suc­cess­fully sur­vive both of these sce­nar­ios.

The five in­stru­ments on board the In­dian ex­plorer have sent back some tremen­dous re­sults. There are yet to be any ground­break­ing dis­cov­er­ies, but the NASA or­biters and rovers that have made

these have a much more ex­ten­sive range of in­stru­ments and are of a higher cal­i­bre – but also a much higher cost. Man­galyaan’s Meth­ane Sen­sor for Mars (MSM) has been mea­sur­ing the amount of meth­ane in the Mar­tian at­mos­phere. Un­for­tu­nately the lev­els of meth­ane on Mars are ac­tu­ally be­yond the sen­si­tiv­ity of the MSM, so no meth­ane was spot­ted. How­ever, it has con­structed re­flectance maps of Mars with su­perb de­tail.

Other in­stru­ments on board in­clude the Mars Colour Cam­era (MCC) which has 16 dif­fer­ent modes of ex­po­sure and has pro­duced some mag­nif­i­cent im­ages of Mars and its moons as a re­sult. The Mars Ex­o­spheric Neu­tral Com­po­si­tion Anal­yser (MENCA) has been care­fully study­ing the up­per­most re­gion of the planet’s at­mos­phere, known as the ex­o­sphere, and it holds the an­swers as to why there is es­sen­tially no at­mos­phere and what hap­pened

“The longevity and suc­cess of this mis­sion has sur­prised many all over the world”

in Mars’ past to make this so. MENCA pro­vided the first mea­sure­ments of the low-lat­i­tude ex­o­sphere in its evening time as well as the dis­cov­er­ing ‘hot’ Ar­gon in the ex­o­sphere. The Ther­mal In­frared Imag­ing Spec­trom­e­ter (TIS), cou­pled with Man­galyaan’s el­lip­ti­cal or­bit, has pro­vided some clear in­frared maps of Mars, mea­sur­ing its ther­mal emis­sion. Lastly, the Ly­man-Al­pha Pho­tome­ter (LAP) is the first In­dian space-borne ab­sorp­tion gas-cell pho­tome­ter that mea­sures the amount of hy­dro­gen and deu­terium in the at­mos­phere.

This space­craft is still be­ing care­fully mon­i­tored from the Space­craft Con­trol Cen­tre at the ISRO Teleme­try, Track­ing and Com­mand Net­work (ISTRAC) in Ban­ga­lore, the cap­i­tal of the In­dian state Kar­nataka, with sup­port from the In­dian

Deep Space Net­work (IDSN) an­ten­nae at Byalalu, Kar­nataka, In­dia. The longevity and suc­cess of this mis­sion has sur­prised many all over the world, and in terms of In­dian space ex­plo­ration this is a huge step­ping stone for mis­sions to come.

Be­side its sci­en­tific re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, Man­galyaan’s ob­jec­tive was to test and de­velop the tech­nolo­gies needed for an in­ter­plan­e­tary mis­sion

The Prime Min­is­ter of In­dia, Naren­dra Modi, was present at the or­bital in­ser­tion of Man­galyaan around Mars

Mars and its north pole were im­aged at a dis­tance of 55,000 kilo­me­tres (34,000 miles) away us­ing the Mars Colour Cam­era (MCC)

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