India's Mars Orbiter Mission completes three years in orbit, well beyond the original planned duration of six months

By Tech2 News Staff

India's rendezvous with the red planet continues as its celebrated Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) completes three years in orbit. "As the country's low-cost Mars Orbiter Mission completes three years in its Martian orbit, the satellite is in good health and continues to work as expected," the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said.

The Mom Orbiter

The scientific analysis of the data received from the Mars Orbiter spacecraft is in progress, ISRO Public Relations Director Deviprasad Karnik told PTI. The country had on 24 September, 2014 successfully placed the Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft in the orbit around the red planet, in its very first attempt, thus breaking into an elite club. ISRO had launched the spacecraft on its nine-month-long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 5, 2013. It had escaped the earth's gravitational field on December 1, 2013.

On the occasion of completion of three years of MOM in its Martian orbit on 24 September 2017, the space body today released MOM second year science data from 24 September, 2014 to 23 September, 2016. The space agency had earlier launched MOM Announcement of Opportunity (AO) programmes for researchers in the country to use MOM data for research and development.

Citing surplus fuel, ISRO had in March, 2015 announced that the spacecrafts life had been extended for another six months. Later in June, 2015, its chairman AS Kiran Kumar had said it had enough fuel for it to last "many years". The Rs 450-crore MOM mission aims at studying the Martian surface and mineral composition as well as scan its atmosphere for methane (an indicator of life on Mars).

The orbiter has continuously observed the red planet, allowing ISRO to compile an Atlas of Mars. On 26 September 2016, MoM celebrated the second anniversary of the insertion maneuver into Mars orbit. On June 19, 2017 MoM completed 1,000 Earth days, or 973.24 Mars Sols — Martian Solar Days, in orbit around the red planet. In November 2016, the new Rs 2,000 note sported a motif of India's first interplanetary mission.

The Mars Orbiter has five scientific instruments - Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA), Mars Colour Camera (MCC) and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS). The Mars Colour Camera, one of the scientific payloads onboard MOM, has produced more than 715 images so far, ISRO had said.

An image of Mars captured by the Mars Orbiter. Image: ISRO.

In its studies of the upper Martian atmosphere, the orbiter discovered superhot argon, a finding that has implications on the energy deposition of the atmosphere.

During its journey so far, the mission went through a communication blackout as a result of solar conjunction from 2 June, 2015 to 2 July, 2015. It had also experienced the whiteout geometry phenomenon (when earth is between the sun and Mars and too much solar radiation makes it impossible to communicate with the earth) from 18  May to 30 May, 2016. An orbital manoeuvre was also performed on MOM spacecraft to avoid the impending long eclipse duration for the satellite, ISRO said. The government had in November last said the space organisation was seeking scientific proposals for Mars Orbiter Mission-2 to expand inter-planetary research.

ISRO is chalking out plans for future interplanetary missions, including putting a rover on the Moon, a maiden mission to Venus and a follow up mission to Mars.

With inputs from PTI