Wednesday, September 24, 2014

MOM on Mars

It all started on 19th April last year, I decided to write every bit of news which appears on ISRO's Mars mission called Mars Orbiter Mission, MOM. My google search on that day did not lead to any other location than the most robust site "wikipedia". I took liberty to address this wonderful baby of ISRO as "MOM" (instead of Mangalyaan); went on to add a M-M-M series of articles (right here) adding the American space craft, MAVEN to MOM on their journey to Mars. As per tradition ISRO was releasing a set of information on this mission; suddenly on 5th November when MOM was to be catapulted, as if a Tsunami has struck them, their site was overwhelmed by the enthusiastic and well informed users within the country and abroad. A new era has started when ISRO opened its doors via the social media on facebook ("isromom"). This site too got swarmed by 25,000 likes in a span of half an hour as MOM got "launched".
A detailed and in-depth comparison of MOM and MAVEN (below) attracted the attention of many avid readers across the globe; leading the traffic was USA. I had been spending sleepless nights in the past 3-4 days as if I am having a ride along with  MOM. The success of MAVEN reaching Mars on 22nd morning (Indian Standard Time) had brought jubilation across the Pacific Ocean and agonizing moments for all of us here in India to know whether test fire of Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) of MOM would wake it up from the deep sleep of 300-days. The 4-seconds of firing, though, appeared to be a blip on the screens of ISRO's ISTRAC center; it meant a lot to the scientists and engineers. A very well informed and well educated scribes read more than what common public could have understood from this test and went on to predict a 100% success on the D-day; 24th September, 2014 @ 7.17 am, the moment of starting the Liquid Apogee Motor to slam breaks on MOM.

ISRO matched a step by step achievement not only on the technological/scientific front; thay also did a commendable job of offering an impeccable Public Outreach program for bringing down the ultimate moment of their hard work to a "common man" (aam-aadmi, aka banana man). I am not able to phrase together my sentences as I come close to that moment - "7.17-am". A chase Hindi speaking gentleman (Mr. Alok Srivastava, Engineer, ISRO) and a sweet voiced lady had mesmerized the viewers across the  nation and took us to epoch point; though the 12-minutes of silence as MOM was dwarfed by the Red planet were agonising; everybody was struck to the faces of few prominent scientists and the chairman ISRO, Dr. Radhakrishnan. It was just around 7.59 am or so that the chairman, ISRO pumped his hands; started walking to greet the Prime minister of the nation who was  waiting anxiously at the top floor of the same complex, to know the status of MOM.  Everything turned into a Diwali (Festive) kind of  celebrations then on.

BREAKING NEWS: Just now saw (as I was writing this post) the FIRST color image being flashed by "isromom"; can you believe that in the span of 12-minutes there were 3,000 views... incredible..

I got terribly busy in bringing this event to the people here in my city; delivered almost 4-5 lectures at IIIT-H, Birla Planetarium and my own residential complex in the last 2-3 days.  Today as I browse the news on MOM; I see many interesting points worked out by the writers across the country; here are few which I liked the most:
* India to be the FIRST country to make it to Mars in its maiden attempt
* The cost effectiveness of MOM ($75-million) vs MAVEN ($670 million)
* Another comparison with Hollywood block buster GRAVITY consuming $ 100 millions
* The cost per person (Indians) on building MOM turns out to be around Rs.4.00  (around US 6-cents)
* Even the cost of journey to Mars has been around Rs. 5.77 a km; lower than an autorikshaw's ride here in India.
* The time duration of building MOM is 15-months against MAVEN's around 5-years
* ISRO leaving sphere of Earth's influence (0.95 million km) first time in its 44-years of existence 
* Though a tortures route, 6-hopping around earth and an agonizing FIRST time effort to communicate upto millions of kms away but MOM finally making it to the podium.
* ISRO managing everything in 1350 kg, less than a SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle)

Really an awesome stuff... What else I can write.... I feel as if I am having a ride around the red planet in the comfortable lap of our MOM....

As per the tradition of this blog; may I add the first image flashed by MAVEN too...

Credit : NASA

Must say ALL is WELL that ends WELL ..

Friday, September 5, 2014

MOM - The last Frontier

The sunrise of 24th September, on Indian land brings a tense wave of emotions for all the space enthusiasts, and agonizing moments lasting 30-minutes to the ISRO scientists sitting at ISTRAC on the outskirts of Bangalore, India. They will come to know whether the MOM (the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission) has performed its final act, only after another 30-minutes (time taken for the signals to travel) after the actual act of Indian probe being inserted into Martian orbit. An hour or so, after the sunrise (~ 7.00 am), their loved MOM would be facing a toughest challenge in its final frontier : TO BE ABLE TO "SLAM THE BREAKS" AT AN ASTONISHING SPEEDS OF > 80,000 km/hr so that it will find itself in the vicinity of Mars. As per the scheduled plan; this is accomplished after the MOM has gone into the shadow of Mars (with respect to Earth) and by re-orientation of the space craft.
Fuel tank assembly MOM
Credit : ISRO
But the most CRUCIAL question which is lingering on top of the "head" on everybody is: WILL THE LAM (Liquid Apogee Motor) FIRE?? The LAM has been idle for the past 300-days. This need to be "woken up". The fuel tank shown above holds the "fire power" which would answers to all the questions which are raised today, the smooth operation of 440-N liquid engine. This is where the history has been a mute spectator to many many failed attempts of visitors from earth who have lost the steam at the last leg of their race to reach the Red Planet.  As per the recent report appearing in the Indian press, the primary channel which had been used on the trans-Mars injection maneuver on 1st December, 2013 has been shut due to technical snags. The team ISRO has been making every possible effort to make use of the available resources in their kitty. The "plan-B" of utilizing secondary fuel channel is the next best option, this is what is being implemented now. There are plans of making "test fire" the secondary channel prior to the actual firing on 22nd September. There is this "last ditch effort" also at the disposal; i.e., making use of all the 8-thrusters which can be put to use; so that MOM can be brought into the vicinity of planet Mars.

Credit Vikas Thakur
Author's view: 
As a science team member of Chandrayaan-I, the author has had first hand experience in developing a science experiment, CHACE part of Moon Impact Probe. Team ISRO has gone through similar challenges when they were to be captured by the MOON during November 2008; the team has come out with the flying colors in placing Chandrayaan into the Lunar Insertion Orbit. In the culture of ISRO, the decisions are taken by a series of discussions and brain storming sessions, where starting from a youngest member to the leader of the mission is given equal opportunity to put forth their argument. I am sure this time too... wisdom would prevail and as the saying goes... Every problem comes with a solution.