Mars Mission under attack

Mars mission.JPG

Thiruvananthapuram: Expectedly, former ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair calling the upcoming Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) a “publicity stunt” has been controversial.
MOM is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission to planet Mars with a spacecraft designed to orbit Mars in an elliptical orbit of 372 km by 80,000 km.
The primary driving technological objective of the Mars mission is to design and realise a spacecraft with the capability to reach Mars (Martian Transfer Trajectory), then to orbit around Mars (Mars Orbit Insertion), which will take about eight or nine months.
Nair, who spearheaded the country’s maiden moon venture, Chandrayaan –1, told Deccan Chronicle that when the successful moon mission led to the path breaking finding of the physical presence of water on the surface of the moon, ISRO initiated a parallel  Mars exploration, titled Mangalyaan.
Explaining his scepticism of the Mars Orbiter Mission, Nair said, “The initial estimated 25 kg of scientific instruments (the spacecraft was to carry) was reduced to a meagre 14 kg. This may further come down, and there could be just five instruments. With such skeletal instruments on board, what meaningful work can be done by a spacecraft travelling at altitudes varying from 380 km to 80,000 km is the big question. This is exactly a case of cutting the head to suit the hat.”
According to Indian Space Research Organisation’s current chairman Dr K. Radhakrishnan, MOM will be launched by PSLV-C25 between October 21 and November 7, 2013 from Sriharikota. The cost of the mission is Rs 450 crore.
Major challenges before space scientists on the Mars mission are  expected to be on the critical mission operations and stringent requirements on propulsion, communications and other systems of the spacecraft. Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will be used to inject the spacecraft from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR) at Sriharikota.
Another technological challenge before ISRO is to realize related deep space mission planning and communication management at a distance of nearly 400 million km.
S. Ramakrishnan, director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said: “Once we approach Mars, we need to reduce the velocity so that the gravity on Mars will take over and keep the spacecraft in orbit. What we do is take remote sensing satellites to Mars and tap images from there.”
Nair says that even ISRO does not call the Mars mission a scientific mission; it’s a technology mission.
“The launch vehicle PSLV is a proven one. The propulsion system is the same as used in the geostationary satellite. The only challenge is its restart after several months. Also, the telemetry and tracking station is the same as that for Chandrayan – 1 and is well proven,” Nair said.
Former VSSC director Dr P.S. Veeraraghavan, who also currently holds the honorary position of Prof. Vikram Sarabhai Distinguished Professor in VSSC, says India should seize the opportunity to launch the Mars mission now. “If we miss this opportunity now, we will be able to do it only in 2018 as things stand.”
There are already four active missions to Mars, led by NASA’s Mars Odyssey, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Mission, Russia’s Mars-500, and Japan’s robotic mission Nozomi. India is eager to show China that it can excel where the Chinese failed.
Nair  still insists that there is no meaningful science and no technological challenge to the Mars mission and that it is being done only to boast that India has also launched a spacecraft to Mars.
“The greater question one needs to ask is: is it worth Rs 400 crore of tax payers’ money or should one conceive and realize a meaning full remote sensing mission with a higher payload and good orbit?” he asks.

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