Monday, June 24, 2013

MARS-MAVEN-MOM:The "triple-M" treat

Here is a sincere attempt to outline interesting aspects of MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, USA) and MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission, INDIA) both the space crafts headed for MARS, come this November (2013). By no mean it is an attempt to compare the might of NASA as against a humble beginning being made by ISRO to reach nearest planet, Mars. It is only to bring out the contrasting attempts which are being made to make these tourists ready for the heavenly journey; to say some thing about their preparations in exploring the environment prevailing at their targeted location and an over all summary of these tourists, from author's point of view.

MOM on PSLV, credit: ISRO


Artist concept of MAVEN
MAVEN (Courtesy : NASA)

Lets start comparing from the word of preparations go: if MAVEN has evolved like a "well-oiled machine" the American legend, Carl Lewis, MOM is a Technology Demonstrator by ISRO trying to emulate much more than their legend sprinter..... "Flying Milka Singh". I must say that, though MAVEN too had its moments of hick ups (otherwise to be shelved) in getting the final nod ONLY  in September 2008 at the cost of 485-million dollars (excluding the launch costs) to be taking a flight on ATLAS V401 rocket around November 2013 (Courtesy: Wikipedia). MOM had an abrupt evolution from nowhere to be finding itself ahead to the intended Chandrayaan-II project; and is now getting ready to have its holy journey on an extended version of PSLV, of course around the similar time window from the eastern part of the world. The cost of MOM as per the reports appearing in the media is turned out to be an equivalent amount of around 75-million dollars, a little stripped down number, thanks to the rising cost of dollar today.

Now, if one looks around to collect all the information available on the public domain: one can get a huge amount of information on MAVEN pouring out at the sites of NASA ( MAVEN site ) and many many other sites maintained by the collaborating/developing agencies ( Univ. Colorado, LASP ), thanks to the compulsive "Public Outreach" program under every budget head. I have opted for "google alerts" on Mars Atmosphere, vow... it is almost ringing on daily basis with the news of MAVEN winding upto its launch. Since the journey of MOM is just around few months away, it is hoped that ISRO may come up with a much visible appearance on the internet. It is here that this blog would play a role by bringing all the information available on public domain on MOM to the visibility of experts in this field.

The armory of MAVEN is loaded with state-of-the-art sensors to probe the Mars atmosphere. These include Particle and Field package built by the Space Science Laboratory of UC-Berkely. This is a highly potent "package" comprising of 6-subsystems viz. Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) - measures solar wind and ionospheric electrons, Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) - measures solar wind and magnetosheath ion density and velocity, SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition (STATIC) - measures thermal ions to moderate-energy escaping ions, Solar Energetic Particle (SEP) - determines the impact of SEPs on the upper atmosphere, Langmuir Probe and Waves (LPW) - determines ionospheric properties and wave heating of escaping ions and solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) input to atmosphere, Magnetometer (MAG) - measures interplanetary solar wind and ionospheric magnetic fields. While the Remote Sensing (RS) Package built by the University of Colorado, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, LASP comprises of Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer (IUVS) - measures global characteristics of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) Package, built by GSFC (Goddard)  which measures the composition and isotopes of neutral gases and ions (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

The details on the instruments carried by MOM are given in the blog (below) ( MOM-Mission (author's blog ); however the lists runs as : 1. Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP) to study the escape processes of Mars upper atmosphere through Deuterium/Hydrogen, 2. Methane Sensor for MARS (MSM), to detect presence of Methane, 3. Martian Exospheric Composition Explorer (MENCA) to study the neutral composition of the Martian upper atmosphere, 4. MARS Colour Camera (MCC) for optical imaging and finally, 5. Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (TISto map surface composition and mineralogy.

There is no way that one can compare the exhaustive list of payloads (8+)  MAVEN is carrying with that of a specific set of instruments (5) with MOM. The ideology of designing a package at NASA is much much different as compared to ISRO; while academia (UC Berkely, U.Colorado) along with the defense giants (Lockheed Martin) and NASA-centers (GSFC, JPL) are part of the MAVEN; for ISRO the entire program is built under their belly. While the heritage of few instruments of MAVEN (from LASP, GSFC) dates back to Pioneer era; MOM's instruments can boast of the recent success they have tasted in Chandrayaan-I. So, from my personal point of view; it is an interesting scenario when MAVEN and MOM are probing the Martian atmosphere at an altitudes of 200+ kms.

As I mentioned earlier, my idea is not to make a pin-to-pin comparison of these two spacecrafts; but to certainly give my impression on what is in store for these two tourists in their journey to the un-known (but little known) realm stretching beyond the Martian horizons. While MAVEN traverses a 150 by 6200 km highly elongated orbit, MOM plans to be in an another extreme elongation of 372 by 80,000 km orbit. The choice of Martian orbit parameters appear to be dictated by the fuel which MOM has carried; this certainly going to be determental to MENCA in capturing the neutrals at 370-kms. MAVEN has a well laid down plan on exploring the escape rates of all the neutral species from the Martian atmosphere which was assumed to be prevailing few million years ago; indicating that 99% of the same doesn't exists now. Not only to measure the neutrals but also to cover the ionic species so that an interaction between ionosphere and solar wind can be studied. Another crucial parameter to be attempted by MAVEN is to determine the ratio of stable isotopes in the Martian atmosphere. The objectives of MOM, though aimed at the similar processes but with a lesser fire power. 

The bottom line: 
The journey to the target zone throws immense challenges to ISRO, while NASA had been having very smooth sail towards MARS (compare to any other nation). MAVEN intends to achieve a great deal of scientific goals indicated by their preparations; MOM plans to achieve few out of the same along with its TECHNOLOGICAL demonstration; though MOM has its firm plans to catch up with METHANE, an indicator for the presence of life on Mars. If Chandrayaan-I success is some thing to be treated as a yard stick, history has witnessed that the "heritage tagged instruments"  of MOM have enough accuracy to hit the bulls eye. 

Note (AFTER the post): This is just 2-days after this blog was written; it is learnt ( Times of India Report ) that NASA is to be partnering with ISRO in the MOM project by providing the Deep Space Network facilities in USA and abroad. This is really a win-win situation for both the countries. During Chandrayaan-I too, ISRO had already demonstrated the uniqueness of "Global Exploration in Space" carrying 6-payloads from abroad out of a total number of 11.

N.B.: The views presented here are only that of author. No other official source (from ISRO or affiliated centers) has been consulted in arriving at the above said discussions.  The comments on the prediction of mission outcome is purely on the scientific merit of the experiment (made by the author), by no mean an authoritative statement.