Mars now has a MOM

Remember the Mars Orbiter Mission? Yes, that’s the fancy thing that the Indian Space Research Organisation launched on November 5, 2013.

The Mars Orbiter being prepared for a pre-launch test, at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO

The MOM was launched using the famous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has so far been the most successful launch vehicle ever in Indian aeronautical history, and among the most successful in the world. Only its maiden mission was a failure.

MOM was put into Low Earth Orbit by a mission PSLV titled PSLV C25.

PSLV C25 lifting off from First Launch Pad of the only Indian spaceport in Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO

The Mars Orbiter Mission is equipped with a main engine known as the Liquid Apogee Motor, and six smaller thrusters. The smaller thrusters were simultaneously fired six times through the month of November to slowly raise the apogee of the Low Earth Orbit of the MOM.

A firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor on November 30, 2013 pushed the spacecraft hurtling towards Mars.

MOM has used an orbit known as the Hohmann Transfer Orbit to get to Mars fast, and at the same time, by using the minimum fuel.

A Hohmann Transfer Orbit. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This is the most efficient type of orbit to get to Mars from Earth. The spacecraft is first put into Low Earth Orbit by a launch vehicle, which is indicated in the infographic by the green line.

The thrusters are then fired to give a boost to the spacecraft, and therefore raise the apogee of the orbit, thus putting the spacecraft into a new, elliptical orbit, indicated in the infographic by the yellow line.

Another firing of the thrusters further raises the apogee of the orbit, and puts the spacecraft into a trajectory that would send it hurtling straight towards Mars.

Trajectory corrections besides these two main firings of the thrusters may be performed as and when necessary. 3 such trajectory correction maneuvers were planned for MOM, out of which only two were ever deemed to be necessary and performed.

Before leaving for Mars from Low Earth Orbit, MOM used its on-board camera to image home. Image Credit: ISRO
This fascinating image was shot on November 19, 2013, at 13:50 IST (08:20 UTC). I can safely presume I was then lazin’ away during the last period in school! It was taken from an altitude of 67,975 km, with a resolution of 3.53 km per pixel of the camera.
Meanwhile, towards the end of the long journey to Mars, ISRO began posting pictures giving a rare look in the processes involved in the manufacturing of the orbiter. They are available of the official Facebook page of ISRO.

September 16, 2014

ISRO issues a status update stating that all commands required for autonomous insertion of MOM into Mars orbit have been successfully uploaded to the orbiter. The 32 metre large antennae of the Indian Deep Space Network, commanded by ISTRAC (ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network) was used to send the commands to the spacecraft.

Image Credit: ISRO

A few days later, ISRO released another infographic on its Facebook page that detailed the ground stations that would be used by ISRO for the MOM:

  • ISRO’s own Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) ground station near Bangalore
  • 3 other ground stations of the NASA Deep Space Network (NDSN) located in Madrid, Goldstone, and Canberra
Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

In this context, it would be worthwhile to note that the first messages sent home whether MOM has been successfully put into Mars orbit would be sent to the Canberra ground station of the NDSN, as it would be the first ground station to have the spacecraft in its footprint.

That would be before the spacecraft is able to feed back detailed information back to ISRO once it appears in the footprint of the IDSN.

Liquid Apogee Motor Test Firing

ISRO later announced that since the 3rd Trajectory Correction Maneuver had not taken place as it was deemed unnecessary, there was enough fuel to carry out a test firing of the LAM, which had been inactive since December, when it pushed MOM hurtling towards Mars.

It was deemed necessary as there were initial apprehensions among technicians that something might go wrong with it due technical issues involved with its long period of inactivity.

Image Credit: ISRO

 A Wonderful Infographic

ISRO later released another wonderful infographic detailing the precise steps that would be involved in inserting MOM into Mars orbit. 

Instead of me talking, let the infographic do it all for you.

Image Credit: ISRO
The infographic detailing the steps involved in inserting MOM into Mars orbit. Image Credit: ISRO

Another Status Update

This was posted on September 19, 2014, at 07:58 IST, on the official Facebook page of ISRO.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

Another Informative Infographic

ISRO soon released another infographic on September 21, 2014. I say, ISRO is becoming social media – savvy with this mission, indeed.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

September 22, 2014; 06:00 IST

ISRO declares that MOM has entered the Gravitational Sphere of Influence of Mars.

Image Credit: ISRO

LAM Test Firing Commences

ISRO later added that the scheduled test-firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor would take place at 14:30 IST on September 22, 2014.

Image Credit: ISRO
First step towards success. Image Credit: ISRO

The operation was then declared a resounding success, relieving the worried minds of many, including me.

Image Credit: ISRO
Success achieved. Image Credit: ISRO

ISRO indeed had a redundant plan should the LAM not perform as expected. However, that would have resulted in a partially successful mission. Nevertheless, that possibility has now been eliminated, and the mission proceeds as expected. 

Live Webcast

As of all major events, the Mars orbit insertion, which will go down as a historic milestone, shall be broadcasted live by the State broadcaster, Doordarshan.


As this infographic says, a broadcast will be starting from 06:45 IST, or 01:15 UTC, on September 24, 2014. 

It is true that a live webcast would be available on the website of ISRO, but let me set your expectations by mentioning that it requires you to install a Windows Media Player Plugin, which comes with its own set of problems. In one word: don’t try it.

If you plan to watch on TV, well and good. Since the broadcast is being done by Doordarshan, a live stream of the same should be available on their official YouTube page:

Update: Mission Successful!

September 24, 07:09 IST: ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) confirms that they have telemetry indicating that the Forward Rotation of the spacecraft has started.

“Forward rotation of MOM is essential in order to make the direction of firing opposite to the direction of motion of MOM,” explained ISRO in a Facebook post.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:12 IST: Spacecraft enters eclipse, meaning that it went into the shadow of Mars. The Sun was blocked, but telemetry to Earth was available, as Earth was still in MOM’s line of sight.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:18 IST: The Liquid Apogee Motor is expected to have started firing. Telemetry was instantly not available as it takes radio signals about 12 minutes to reach Earth from the Red Planet.

September 24, 07:24 IST: Spacecraft enters occultation, meaning that Mars comes in between MOM and the Earth, blocking all communication between them.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:30 IST: ISTRAC receives telemetry from MOM, thus confirming that the engine burn of the Liquid Apogee Motor is proceeding as planned.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:42 IST: A post on the Facebook page of ISRO says that the Liquid Apogee Motor is expected to have shut off by now. They have to wait till MOM comes out of occultation, and a further nerve-wracking 12 minutes for signals to be picked up by the Canberra ground station of NASA Deep Space Network.

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 07:50 IST: Occultation is now behind us! Telemetry must have activated. Allow it another nerve wrecking 12.5 minutes.”

Image Credit: ISRO

September 24, 08:02 IST: Victory! ISTRAC confirms that MOM has successfully been put into the intended Mars orbit, based on telemetry received from the spacecraft.

Image Credit: ISRO
Image Credit: ISRO

For those who wouldn’t mind watching an excruciatingly slow (although not relaxing) documentary of the whole event, take a look at this recording of the live broadcast by State broadcaster, Doordarshan, on the official broadcasting website of ISRO.


It would be worthwhile to note that the Mars Orbiter Mission has been criticised, apparently on the basis that $ 74 million was spent on this mission. Such critics hold their ground by asking what justification is there to spend so much money of an “insignificant mission to another planet”, when half of the population of India doesn’t have a square meal every day?

To those people, let me ask, “How do you justify India spending at least twice that amount just to burn firecrackers during Diwali?” “How do you justify much more money being spent to just make the Hollywood film, Gravity, as Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, had famously made note of in a statement?

What about the applications of the technology developed for this mission? At the end of the day, almost all components of this whole mission came from private contractor or public sector companies in India, the same technology which they are now using for their daily jobs. The technical spin-offs we get from this mission are worthwhile in nation-building, as PM Mr. Modi reiterated in his statement today.

At the end of the day, the mission cost every Indian a mere four rupees! I don’t think Indians are so selfish not to sacrifice their evening tea of a day for this historic leap into space. 

I end by quoting Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi:

“Mars now has a MOM. And I know that MOM never despairs.” 


2 thoughts on “Mars now has a MOM

  1. Hello Sagnik..
    First of all, thank you so much for this wonderful article..

    The timeline explained above is really appreciable..
    I just want you to recheck the 1st two date…(instead of 24 Sep. 2014 there should be 5th Nov. 2013 when the MOM had launch and the next 30th Nov.2013 when she started the journey towards Mars..You have mentioned 2014)

    And one more point I would like ask you, MAVEN has launched after two weeks than MOM right; but it has entered into the orbit before us…event hough we have used the shortest possible path to reach..why does so?

    (speed might be one of the causes eh?)
    Waiting for your reply! 🙂



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