Can you recollect those childhood days of yours? There has always been a moment in all of our lives when the night sky has managed to captivate us. We surrender ourselves to the brilliant display of the little twinkling stars or the static radiance of the tiny planets, accompanied by the cool night breeze emanating from that nostalgic little window of your home. The star studded sky with its immaculate beauty has always questioned our little minds? How small we really are in this observable universe? Is there life out there on any one of this little planets? If yes, how will we little creatures ever know about it? How can I comprehend the distances of the range of 500 light years from where the light of these stars are coming into my eyes? Can I ever reach them once, just to know how different it is to be there? Who manages all of this cosmic illumination? Is there a force that binds all of this together?
Questions flow within the walls of our 1.5 kg human brain to which we are always pretty much answer less. But many a time, curiosity has managed to uplift the limits of human innovation and sophistication. One of the pioneers in researching such revolutionary technical approach to lift the curtains into the vastness of this universe was NASA. Of all the planets in our Solar system, MARS has managed to capture the maximum interest from the scientific community. Right from the Mariner mission, Viking landers or the triple Mars Rovers including the latest giant rover Curiosity, the success of the American Mars exploration mission has been unprecedented. After innumerable number of failures, three countries or organizations managed to taste sweet success in capturing MARS. But it has been the latest entrant ISRO, the space agency of India, that is joining the quest to unlock the mysteries of the planet. If successful, India will become only the fourth space agency in the world to explore MARS, after NASA(USA), ROSCOMOS(Russia) and ESA(Europe).
The space story of India is a story of tremendous inspiration. From the premises of a small church room in Thiruvananthapuram to one of the largest space exploration agencies in the world, ISRO, led by some of the visionary scientists and engineers of the generation, has grown silently in the background of a turbulent and unassuming India. Today, I take you through my humble glimpse of the exclusively created journey of the conceptualization, design and creation of the MARS ORBITER MISSION or the Mangalyaan, which is all decked up to launch into its 10 month long journey to MARS on November 05, 2013.
The orbiter will be launched on India's indigenously built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL C25) from India's launch site at Satish Dhavan Space Center, Sriharikota. PSLV is ISRO’s very own master launcher which has successfully launched 63 satellites (28 Indian and 35 Foreign Satellites) into a variety of orbits so far. The Mangalyaan mission required an expenditure of INR 450 Crore from the Indian Government. While covering the 250 million km journey, scientists back in India will have to control its orientation with pin point accuracy. The PSLV rockets will put the orbiter to an initial launch speed of around 25000km/hr to enter into an Earth elliptical orbit. India has stationed two of its ships, Nalanda and Yamuna around Fiji in the Pacific Ocean with communication radar terminals to monitor Mangalyaan right after launch. Isro has its own deep space tracking facility at Baylalu in Karnataka, one of the very few in the world of this magnanimity. NASA, with their sophisticated deep space network, has offered tracking help to ISRO. This virtually showcases the international trust of space giants like NASA on India and her technological credibility.
After several orbit raising manoeuvre for a month, the orbiter will eventually leave the Earth's gravitational influence sphere to a 9 month long journey to Mars in a Hoffman transfer orbit, the chance for which occurs only once in 2 years and 2 months. We have to take into account that both Earth and Mars is moving when Mangalyaan is launched, so it takes precise control and orbit monitoring efforts to force the orbiter to chase MARS and capture it. Once MARS has been captured, Mangalyaan will fly 377 km nearest to 80000 km farthest elliptical orbit of Mars, trying to closely observe Mars and conduct its experiments ranging from spectroscopy, terrain photography and Methane sensing among others.
A signal to the Mangalyaan on Mars and return of its reply will take 42 minutes, since radio waves travel at the speed of light and light takes 42 minutes to do a round trip around MARS. In order to fight this delay, engineers has given Mangalyaan on board computers a fair degree of autonomy to take its own decisions, without waiting for intervention from ground control scientists. Thus Mangalyaan can itself take crucial decisions while on its mission. The orbiter is loaded by ISRO with five payloads on board including a Lyman Alpha Photometer, Methane Sensor for Mars, Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser, Mars Colour Camera and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer.
The technical challenges and the amount of testing that ISRO has put into Mangalyaan has been intense. Let us go on a photographic journey towards that amazing facilities and testing centres of ISRO all around the country where Mangalyaan took its shape, designed by the hands of India’s very own engineering and research masterminds.
Spacecraft Testing in progress.
Loading Spacecraft for Thermovacuum Test in Large Space Simulation Chamber
Spacecraft Antenna undergoing test at Comprehensive Antenna Test Facility
Spacecraft undergoing Acoustic test at ISITE ISAC Bangalore
Spacecraft undergoing EMI/EMC test at ISITE ISAC Bangalore
Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft being prepared for a prelaunch test at Satish Dhawan Space Center, Srihairkota
Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft is being integrated to the 4th stage of PSLV-C25
Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft attached to the 4th stage of PSLV-C25 and ready for heat shield closure.
PSLV-C25 with heat shield closed. The Mangalyaan is sitting right inside the top cone.
Spacecraft being unloaded at Clean Room at SDSC SHAR Sriharikota
Spacecraft at Cleanroom at SDSC SHAR Sriharikota
PSLV-C25 First Stage Nozzle End Segment being placed on the launch pedestal
Two segments of PSLV-C25 First Stage being joined in Mobile Service Tower
Hoisting of one of the segments of PSLV-C25 First Stage during vehicle integration
Joining of two segments of PSLV-C25 First Stage in progress in the Mobile Service Tower
Fully integrated first stage of PSLV-C25 in the Mobile Service Tower
Preparation of one of the strap-ons before its integration with PSLV-C25 first stage
One of the strap-ons of PSLV-C25 being lowered to its transporter
One of the strap-ons of PSLV-C25 being lowered to its position during vehicle integration
PSLV-C25 first stage being surrounded by strap-ons in the Mobile Service Tower
Hoisting of PSLV-C25 second stage in the Mobile Service Tower
PSLV-C25 fourth stage being hoisted during its integration with the third stage
Hoisting of the third and fourth stages of PSLV-C25 during vehicle integration
PSLV-C25 third and fourth stages being placed on top of the second stage at the Moible Service Tower
If the mission is a success, India will make a resounding statement to the world, as a country credible of designing, implementing and launching a fully indigenously built orbiter of its own. Also, India will join the elite group of only three agencies in the world to have its presence in outer space, beyond the influence of the Earth, probing another planet. The world is looking closely at India and this mission. The possibility of even beating China on the race to Mars is seen as a tremendous inspiration to our own home grown technology. As November 5 nears, scientists and engineers at ISRO are gearing up for the biggest launch of the nation up till now. They are spending sleepless nights, some of them even changing their schedules to the time zone of Planet Mars, since the mission demands total control and supervision for the entire crucial 10 month expedition. They may go into sleep deprivation, but they are happy, for they are preparing to be a part of India's biggest legacy. I cannot sign off without hailing the amazing young scientists and engineers who gave wings to India's space dreams. With their expertise, they could have easily settled abroad and worked in premier space institutions like NASA. But they chose to stay back, not as an obligation, but for the love of their nation, to see the Indian flag on Martian atmosphere.
When the first full images of Mars will be received 10 months later, that particular moment will be the tryst with victory, of India and her people. It will be a proclamation to the world, that India has made it. Let us brace ourselves for that magnificent launch day of November 5, when the 10 second countdown begins, of Mangalyaan's as well as of India's pursuit for glory. It can well become India's biggest news of the century. PSLV and INDIA, both are now sitting on the lauchpad, one readying to go to MARS, another readying to go into ETERNITY!