Bangalore, Dec 2: Becoming the farthest object sent by the country into interplanetary space, the Indian spacecraft to Mars crossed the moon’s orbit Monday on its way towards the red planet, ISRO officials said.
“The Mars Orbiter has crossed the distance of moon’s orbit around 8 a.m. and is now the farthest object of India in the interplanetary space,” said a senior space agency official.
As earth’s only natural satellite, moon is around 384,400 km away and is the fifth largest of its kind in the solar system.
Cruising at 32 km per second in the 680-million km solar orbit, the Orbiter flew over the satellite, crossing its orbit where India’s moon craft Chandrayaan-1 orbited in 2008-09.
The spacecraft has cruised a distance of 536,000 km from earth by 5 p.m. Monday.
“The Orbit is on course and cruising to escape the earth’s sphere of influence early Wednesday (01.15 a.m.), which extends up to 918,347 km in the deep space,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) director Deviprasad Karnik told IANS here.
Scientists at the Indian telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) here and the Indian Deep Space Network at Bylalu, about 40km from Bangalore, are monitoring the spacecraft’s movement in the sun-synchronous orbit and checking its subsystems.
“The Orbiter has crossed the rubicon never to return, as it was freed from the earth’s gravity early Sunday and is on way for a rendezvous with the red planet,” Karnik said.
The craft was flung into outer space 1.11 a.m. Dec 1 after its engine was fired for 22 minutes for the crucial trans-Mars injection at a velocity (speed) of 648 metres per second.
The deep space network will conduct the first of the four mid-course corrections Dec 11 to ensure the Orbiter stays on course in the sun orbit.
After a nine-month long journey, the spacecraft will enter in mid-September 2014 the Mars sphere of influence, which is around 573,473 km from its surface, in a hyperbolic trajectory.
“When the spacecraft is closest to Mars in mid-September, it will be captured into the Martian orbit through a crucial manoeuvre,” Karnik said.
Transition from the earth’s final orbit to solar orbit was programmed in line with sun’s gravity and laws of the universe to ensure the Orbiter reaches precisely on time to sling into the Martian orbit in mid-September.
The 1,337 kg Orbiter was launched Nov 5 from Sriharikota spaceport off the Bay of Bengal, about 80 km north east of Chennai, on board a 350-tonne rocket with five scientific instruments — Mars Colour Camera, Methane Sensor, Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer, Lyman Alpha Photometer, and Mars exospheric Netural Composition Analyser.
India became the first Asian country and fourth nation in the world to leap into the interplanetary space with its Rs.450-crore exploratory mission to Mars, about 400 million km from earth.
So far, only Russia, USA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have undertaken such missions.