India’s first space mission to Mars is slated for lift-off on Tuesday, marking the start of the homegrown orbiter’s 10-month journey to the red planet, which has been reached by few nations so far. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K Radhakrishnan tells Ajay Sukumaran the inter-planetary mission to Mars — ‘Mangalyaan’ — has been more complex than anything the agency has undertaken so far and how the technological innovations would help build smarter communications and remote sensing satellites. Edited excerpts:
What is the mood in the
Every space mission is a challenge, whether it is the launch of a rocket or a satellite operation in orbit. This, especially, is important because it is much more complex than anything we have undertaken so far. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C25 is the 25th launch of the PSLV and in the XL configuration, this will be the fifth launch. Even then, the mission here is different in the sense that the satellite has to be injected into an elliptical orbit which calls for a unique trajectory and flight duration of nearly 43 minutes. That is one part. The second part is the 1,350-kg Mars Orbiter spacecraft which incorporates certain unique aspects into the Mars mission.
What are these unique
We are talking about a long voyage and the great distance between the ground station and the orbiter when it is in the orbit of Mars, which means there will be a communication delay to the extent of 4 minutes to 20 minutes one-way. So we have to incorporate a certain level of autonomy in the spacecraft for it to manage itself till the ground controllers are able to understand any problem in the components of the system and give the corrective commands. Then, our ability to compute the position of the spacecraft — where it will be before the Martian orbit insertion in September 2014 — while leaving the Earth orbit on November 30, 2013 itself. When you talk about any mission to Mars, it can be done only in opportune windows. So time is of the essence, but the most satisfying part of it is the ISRO team has made it, having been working on a 24/7 basis to realise this.
What have been some of the key challenges?
The sphere of influence of Earth is generally understood because we had done this in Chandrayaan (the moon mission in 2008)