Mars Ahoy! ISRO’s tryst with Destiny

On September 24th 2014, ISRO will be one of the handful of organizations that will have deployed a spacecraft beyond the Earth-Moon orbit. That too in its first attempt. Missions to mars are notorious for failing en-route due to a wide variety of reasons.

Mangalyaan being integrated the PSLV rocket’s payload enclosure

However lately ISRO seems to have taken valuable lessons from its first deep space mission Chandrayaan, as well as failures of other agencies. Mangalyaan is just a technology demonstrator project for ISRO. The mini orbiter is was built on a shoestring budget of $25 million. It will arrive just a day after NASA’s Maven orbiter reaches Mars. ISRO was earlier aiming for a much heavier payload to send to Mars. However delays in building a heavy lift rocket and the limited launch window in 2013 forced ISRO to make up for lost time and send a lightweight 500Kg craft instead.

Mangalyaan Science

MOM’s primary mission payload is the methane sensors on board, called MSM (or Methane Sensor For Mars)  Methane is commonly produced biologically by plant, animal and microbial life. This is why fossil fuel deposits are associated with Methane.Previous observations by ESA’s Mars Express orbiter and ground based spectroscopic studies from earth have speculated that some Methane may be present in Martian atmosphere.Later in 2013, NASA’s Curiosity rover, used its Laser spectroscope instrument to determine methane concentrations in the area and found it to be less than 0.1 parts per billion.

Visualization of a methane plume found in Mars’ atmosphere during the northern summer season. Credit: Trent Schindler/NASA
Visualization of a methane plume found in Mars’ atmosphere during the northern summer season. Credit: Trent Schindler/NASA

The ambiguous results leave a lot of ground for speculation and MOM providing answers to this unsolved question. MOM gets this opportunity much earlier than ESA/Roscosmos’s ExoMars Orbiter that is being planned for this very purpose.

Lyman Alpha Photometer

A second instrument to study Mars’s atmosphere is a spectroscope that looks at Hydrogen’s Lyman Alpha emission at 1215 Angstrom. This is not to be confused with the commonly known Hydrogen-Alpha (H-a) line well known to amateur astronomers. The H-a line is a Balmer series line with a wavelength of 656 nm.

Hydrogen spectrum
Hydrogen spectrum

As you may have guessed, the Lyman Alpha line is much shorter in wavelength, in to the deep ultraviolet. This transition is a strong transition in netural hydrogen, which means that the a spectrometer can detect trace quantities of hydrogen much more easily than any other wavelength. It forms a weapon of choice for hydrogen hunting in astronomy. MOM will use this instrument to study loss of atmosphere in the Martian environment.

Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA)

MENCA is a quadruple mass spectrometer capable of analyzing the neutral composition in the range of 1 to 300 amu with unit mass resolution. The heritage of this payload is from Chandra’s Altitudinal Composition Explorer (CHACE) payload. MENCA is a quadrupole mass spectrometer based scientific payload, capable of measuring relative abundances of neutral constituents in the mass range of 1 to 300 amu, with a unit mass resolution.

Mars Color Camera (MCC)

This tri-color Mars color camera gives images & information about the surface features and composition of Martian surface. They are useful to monitor the dynamic events and weather of Mars. MCC will also be used for probing the two satellites of Mars-Phobos & Deimos. It also provides the context information for other science payloads. What probe doesnt carry a camera!… Duhh.

Earth shot from MCC payload. MOM is over 60,000 Km above the Earth's surface at the time this picture was taken
Earth shot from MCC payload. MOM is over 60,000 Km above the Earth’s surface at the time this picture was taken

Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS)

TIS measure the thermal emission and can be operated during both day and night. Temperature and emissivity are the two basic physical parameters estimated from thermal emission measurement. This is something I am sure they stole from Agent 007.

Attention Lazy People

If you are too lazy to read what I wrote above, here is a nice crash course on Mangalyaan I found on the internet

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