Two Mars spacecraft celebrate one year in Martian orbit
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) and India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) celebrate one year in Martian orbit this week. MAVEN started its journey to Mars on Nov. 18, 2013, and entered Mars’ orbit on Sept. 22, 2014, 02:24 UTC. The Indian probe, which was launched earlier, on Nov. 5, 2013, arrived at Mars two days after the U.S. spacecraft, on Sept. 24, 2014, 02:00 UTC.
“The success of the mission so far is a direct result of the incredibly hard work of everybody who is working and has worked on MAVEN. This one year at Mars reflects the tremendous efforts over the preceding dozen years,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN’s principal investigator from the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder.
MAVEN began its primary science mission on Nov. 16, 2014, and is the first spacecraft dedicated to understanding Mars’ upper atmosphere. The goal of the mission is to determine the role that the solar wind has played in the loss of atmospheric gas to space and changing the Martian climate through time. MAVEN is studying the entire region from the top of the upper atmosphere all the way down to the lower atmosphere so that the connections between these regions can be understood.
During the first year in Martian orbit, MAVEN has carried out ten months of observations during its primary mission and four deep-dip campaigns.
“We still have two months to go in our primary mission, and then we begin our extended mission,” Jakosky said. “We’re obtaining an incredibly rich data set that is on track to answer the questions we originally posed for MAVEN and that will serve the planetary science community for a long time to come.”
“The team has done a fantastic job of adapting to spacecraft operations in the Martian environment,” said Richard Burns, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All systems on MAVEN remain in excellent working condition.”
The MOM spacecraft, sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also completed a successful year at Mars. The probe has already delivered a set of global views of Mars and images of the Martian surface. MOM’s methane sensors have successfully studied Mars’ albedo, the reflectivity of the planet’s surface.
The mission objectives are to showcase India’s rocket launch systems, spacecraft construction, and operations capabilities. The primary objective is to develop the technologies required for designing, planning, management, and operations of an interplanetary mission. MOM’s secondary objective is to explore Mars’ surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere using indigenous scientific instruments.
ISRO extended the MOM mission by an additional six months in March 2015 as the spacecraft has 37 kg (82 lbs) of propellant remaining and all five of its scientific instruments are working properly. The orbiter can reportedly continue orbiting Mars for several years with its remaining propellant.
“Mars (mission) is expected to last for many years now, because it has gone through solar conjunction also; so we don’t see much of a problem,” ISRO Chairman AS Kiran Kumar said.
“We had planned it only for six months. Then we were not expecting so much fuel to remain after we completed our insertion activity […] all other subsystems are working fine and so far we have not had any failures,” he added.
ISRO will mark the first anniversary of Mars Orbit Insertion by releasing an atlas containing photos taken by the color camera on board the spacecraft. On Nov. 5, it will also release a book tracing the journey of the space agency.
“Currently, on September 24, we will be releasing one of the atlases… then, on November 5, we are bringing out a book, ‘Fishing hamlet to Mars’,” Kumar revealed.
Thanks to the success of the MOM mission, ISRO has become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA, and the European Space Agency (ESA). India is the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit, and the first nation in the world to do so on its first attempt.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.