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Indian Mars orbiter attached to launch vehicle

Posted: October 24, 2013

Workers have placed India's first Mars orbiter on top of a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle for liftoff Nov. 5, the Indian Space Research Organization announced this week.

The Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is enclosed inside the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle fairing. Credit: ISRO
The 2,976-pound spacecraft is set to blast off at 0906 GMT (4:06 a.m. EST) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on Sriharikota Island, a facility on India's east coast about 50 miles north of Chennai.

Technicians lifted the Indian-built orbiter on top of the four-stage PSLV inside the rocket's mobile service structure at the space center's First Launch Pad. The ground team installed the rocket's aerodynamic shroud, emblazoned with the Indian flag and mission logos, around the spacecraft this week to finish assembly of the 144-foot-tall launcher.

The Mars Orbiter Mission will use the most powerful version of India's workhorse rocket named the PSLV XL, which features beefed-up solid rocket boosters. The PSLV XL will boost the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around Earth, then the probe will use its own propulsion system to propel itself out of Earth orbit and on a trajectory to Mars.

The final Earth departure burn is scheduled for around Nov. 30, according to ISRO.

ISRO officials delayed the launch from Oct. 28 because bad weather in the Pacific Ocean delayed the arrival of communications ships in Fiji. The vessels will track the mission's progress after launch.

India has until Nov. 19 to launch the mission or else abandon the flight until early 2016. The launch window depends on the proper alignment of Earth and Mars in the solar system to permit the interplanetary journey.

The $73 million project is India's first Mars mission. The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive in orbit around the red planet in September 2014.

The Indian spacecraft will enter an orbit ranging in altitude from 234 miles to nearly 50,000 miles above Mars, completing a lap around the planet every 3.2 days.

The Mars Orbiter Mission will demonstrate deep space navigation and communications, interplanetary travel, spacecraft autonomy, and the complex make-or-break rocket burn to place the spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

Only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have successfully dispatched robots to Mars before. The Indian Space Research Organization hopes to be the fourth space agency to accomplish the feat.

The Indian orbiter carries a small camera to return medium-resolution color imagery of the Martian terrain, a thermal infrared spectrometer to measure the chemical composition of the surface, and instruments to assess the Mars atmosphere, including a methane detector.