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.


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