Bangalore: As India’s Mars mission moves a step closer to home after the dormant main engine on the spacecraft was test fired flawlessly, ISRO looks confident of giving one final nudge today to put it in orbit around Mars, which, if successful, would see it make space history.

The rocket
The rocket carrying the Mars orbiter took off from the east-coast island of Sriharikota on November 5, 2013. Pic/PTI

India will be the first country to enter the Mars orbit on a maiden mission if it succeeds. It will also be the first Asian country and ISRO, the fourth space agency, to send a satellite to the Red Planet. European, US and Russian probes have managed to orbit or land on the planet, but only after several attempts. Given the high rate of failure — only 21 of the total 51 missions sent to Mars by various countries being successful — the success of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) in the very first shot would boost India’s global standing in Space.

After the crucial manoeuvre yesterday, ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan said the spacecraft was ‘healthy’ after completing 98 per cent of its 666 million km journey. “....we are now prepared for that crucial operation to take place on September 24 morning.” The MOM entered the Mars Gravitational Sphere of Influence yesterday. The spacecraft had escaped the earth gravity pull on December 1, 2013.

As NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft began orbiting the Red Planet for the second day yesterday, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has conveyed its best wishes to ISRO for today’s Mars Orbit Insertion. “Good Luck MOM! From your JPL family!” read the message.
In a crucial manoeuvre ahead of orbiter’s entry into the final destination today, the main liquid engine on the spacecraft was successfully test fired yesterday and its trajectory corrected. The 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) engine, idling for the last 300 days on the MOM, was fired for four (3.968) seconds, raising the confidence level of ISRO about the success of insertion of the spacecraft into the Martian orbit.