NEW DELHI: India’s Mars spacecraft has completed the first of a series of engine firings designed to free it from Earth’s gravitational pull and propel it toward the Red Planet, scientists said on Friday.
The first “orbit-raising mane-uver,” which involves the firing of a liquid fuel thruster, was performed Thursday followed by the second firing on Friday, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said.
“The second orbit raising manoeuvre of Mars Orbiter Spacecraft, starting at 02:18:51 hours [IST] on November 8, with a burn time of 570.6 seconds has been successfully completed,” the Bangalore-headquartered ISRO said in a statement.
India began the quest to become the first Asian country to reach Mars on Tuesday with the succesful launch from its southern space station of a 1.35 tonne unmanned probe, which is strapped to a rocket.
As it lacks the power to fly directly to Mars, the probe will orbit Earth for nearly a month and the thruster firings are designed to build up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet’s gravitational pull.
Only once all six of the engine firing maneuvers have been successfully completed will it begin the second stage of its nine-month journey to Mars.
The main aim of the mission is to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form on the fourth planet from the sun.
India has never before attempt-ed inter-planetary travel, and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.
The cost of the project, at 4.5 billion rupees ($73 million), is less than a sixth of the $455 million earmarked for a Mars probe by National Aeronautics and Space Administration which will launch later this month.