When everything is for the first time,achievements are incremental and there are very many critical “moments of truth” to meet and overcome. But now comes a very large “moment of truth” as ISRO prepares to inject the Mars Orbiter spacecraft into its Trans Mars Trajectory.
India’s Mars Orbiter (Mangalyaan) is currently in its final orbit around the earth and is scheduled to fire its 440 Newton liquid engine at 0049 hours IST on Sunday morning ( 1919 GMT Saturday 30th November). It entered its final Earth orbit yesterday which has an orbital period of 5575 minutes (just under 4 days) and it should be approaching apogee later tonight (early hours of Friday morning) and the next engine burn will take place at perigee. Currently apogee is about 193,000 km from earth and perigee is around 350km.
The spacecraft must first be manoeuvred into the right attitude using its thrusters for the firing of its main engine which must then be fired to impart the correct change of velocity (delta-vee). Both, an incorrect attitude and/or an incorrect delta-vee are potential sources of error. Three mid-course corrections are planned (the first on December 11th) but the margin of error allowable is still extremely small. Too low a velocity change could leave the craft in earth orbit or put it into a heliocentric orbit which does not get close enough to Mars. Too high a delta-vee would also put the craft into a heliocentric orbit which would eventually decay into the sun. I believe there is no chance of achieving a velocity high enough to escape the sun. And even if the velocity change is correct but the direction is too far in error then just another orbital path around the sun would result.
NDTV:“The trans-Mars injection- we are planning to depart on December 1, 2013 early hours of 00:49 hours IST and we are going to burn a liquid engine for duration of roughly 23 minutes which will impart an incremental velocity of 648 metres per second consuming a fuel of 198 kgs,” ISRO Scientific Secretary V Koteswara Rao told reporters in Bangalore.
K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO Chairman. (For the) trans-Mars injection and its insertion into the Martian orbit, the firing of the liquid engine is done in a closed loop mode. Here, a precision accelerometer is used to estimate the incremental velocity added as the liquid engine burns and when the accelerometer gives a feedback that the required incremental velocity added to the spacecraft has been achieved, the burning of the liquid engine is automatically terminated. So, minor variations in the performance of the liquid engine will not matter because we are cutting off its burning based on the delta-v that is achieved. That is why we call it closed loop of firing. … The spacecraft’s propulsion system, i.e., the 440 Newton liquid engine, will complete its first phase of operations on December 1. It has to be re-started for its operation on September 24 (2014).
ISRO: This voyage is achieved by a combination of navigation and propulsion technologies, governed by the gravity of Sun and Mars, and assisted by the 440 N Liquid engine. Further fine tuning of the trajectory is achieved using the Attitude and Orbit Control Thrusters during the Trajectory Correction maneuvers planned en route.
… on December 11, we plan to have one small firing for mid-course correction of the spacecraft. There may be one more mid-course correction during the helio-centric phase, and subsequently, a fortnight before the spacecraft’s arrival near Mars, there will be one more mid-course correction. So there will be three mid-course corrections between December 1, 2013 and September 24, 2014.
Mangalyaan is eventually to be placed into a Martian orbit, with a periapsis height of 365 km, apoapsis height of 80,000 km and an orbital period of about 77 hours.
So on Saturday I shall have as many of my fingers crossed as I can manage. I suspect there will be many others doing the same across India.