“Launch windows to Mars occur once every two years. If the developmental schedule was hastened to catch the launch window, it could be a severe misjudgment. It might have been worthwhile to extend the development schedule and wait for the next launch window in 2015,” Ghosh says.
ISRO Chief K. Radhakrishnan sees it differently. “The 2016 opportunity is not as energy efficient as a November 2013 launch,” he says. “Because of the geometrics involved, 2016 would be costlier. We have availed the best available opportunity; that is November 2013.” He brushes aside the repeated failures of other nations.
“The ISRO team will fulfill the expectations that the nation has in them,” Radhakrishnan says. “The journey has only begun. The challenging phase is coming.”
Mangalyaan's next major test will be on Dec. 1, when the spacecraft begins the journey to Mars, with its trans-Martian injection. It reaches another milestone in September 2014, when it will be injected into Mars orbit.
“These things we are doing for the first time,” Radhakrishnan notes. “We have to calculate that at the given time, at the given velocity, what position the spacecraft will be in when it reaches Mars after 300 days.”
A key challenge facing the ISRO scientists is ensuring that the probe's main engine operates as planned after remaining idle for so many months in the icy coldness of space.
Engineers have ensured the efficiency of the liquid-apogee engine after more than 10 months from its first phase of activity in November 2013.
Only after Mangalyaan enters the elliptical orbit of Mars will the onboard instruments perform their assessment work.
MOM carries just a 15-kg scientific payload, comprising three instrument packages with a total of five instruments: the Lyman Alpha Photometer, Methane Sensor for Mars, Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (Menca), Mars Color Camera (MCC) and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS). While a photometer and methane sensor would help in atmospheric studies, Menca is intended to focus on studying the particle environment. MCC and TIS aim to contribute to studying the surface imaging.