In keeping with expectations, the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) trusted workhorse, the PSLV rocket, delivered a perfect launch to India's ambitions of reaching the Red Planet by parking the Mangalyaan spacecraft precisely outside Earth on Tuesday.
The 43-minute launch aboard the PSLV C25 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, some 80 km from Chennai, saw the Mangalyaan spacecraft placed in an argument of perigee of 282.75 degrees which was considered necessary to enable the actual 400 million km transition towards Mars on November 30.
It was a textbook launch for the Mangalyaan spacecraft — the 25th successful mission carried out by the PSLV rocket — and its progress through the 43-minute launch phase — the longest ever for a PSLV — went on cue, with the crucial third stage rockets firing at 33 minutes and the rocket initiating satellite separation at 43 minutes.
"The PSLV 25 has placed the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) very precisely in an elliptical orbit around Earth,'' ISRO chairman K Radhdakrishnan announced at Sriharikota minutes after satellite separation.
ISRO had indicated that a perfect launch of the Rs 450-crore Mars mission would involve achieving a perigee of 250 km (nearest distance to earth) and an apogee of 23,500 km (furthest distance from earth). The PSLV placed the spacecraft at a perigee of 246.9 km and an apogee of 23,566 km. "The satellite is placed well within the 675 km margin of error,'' said ISRO officials.
PSLV mission director P Kunhikrishnan said the 282.63 degree argument of apogee achieved by the launch was only fractionally off the 282.55 degree that would have been considered perfect.
The Earth orbit position that the PSLV parked the Mangalyaan spacecraft in on Tuesday is considered crucial since this will allow spacecraft scientists, who will now take over the mission, to transfer Mangalyaan into a Mars-bound orbit (trans Mars insertion) on November 30 by using a minimal amount of fuel.
The launch of the Mars orbiter by ISRO has been timed to keep in tune with a 780-day occurrence where Mars comes within 55 million km distance of Earth as compared to the otherwise 400 million km distance.
"This near perfect launch sets the ground for the minimum energy transfer of the spacecraft into the Mars orbit,'' said ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan. ISRO is following a strategy of space travel known as the Hohmann Transfer Orbit or a minimum energy transfer orbit to send the spacecraft from Earth to Mars with the least amount of fuel possible.
"The PSLV has been providing India assured access to space. After meticulous planning it has delivered another near perfect mission. This is a small step in the Mars mission. The journey from here to Mars will utilise less than a fraction of the energy used in this first phase,'' said S Ramakrishnan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
A loud cheer broke out in the ISRO mission control room during the PSLV's flight after about 33 minutes of flight, when a ship bound terminal in the south Pacific picked up the course of the rocket. "There was some concern on that, and this is why there was a cheer when the ship terminal registered the flight and there was not much data lost,'' said the ISRO chairman.
Soon after the Mangalyaan spacecraft was placed in its designated temporary orbit around Earth, operations were conducted on it including the deployment of solar panels. "The spacecraft is in good health,'' said the ISRO chief.
Over the next few days, ISRO will, through a series of orbital raisings, put the MOM in a two lakh km orbit around Earth. On December 1, a sixth and final push will put the MOM in the trans-Martian trajectory — a crucial phase in the journey to Mars.
The Mangalyaan spacecraft is scheduled to reach the Mars orbit on September 24, 2014 if the maneuvers over the next nine months go off like the launch did on Tuesday.