US, India Prep for Unmanned Missions to Mars

Posted October 29th, 2013 at 5:36 pm (UTC-4)

The planet Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA/JPL/California Institute of Technology)

The planet Mars in late spring as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope (NASA)

Both the United States and India are gearing up for unmanned missions to Mars.

India will launch its first interplanetary spacecraft when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) sends its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) to the Red Planet on Nov. 5. The spacecraft will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre located in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, India.

According to ISRO, one of MOM’s main objectives is to allow the Indian space program to develop the technologies required to design, plan, manage and operate an interplanetary mission.

Once the MOM spacecraft arrives at Mars in September 2014, it will drop into orbit around the planet. Throughout its nearly year-long mission the MOM will explore the Martian surface and atmosphere.

India's Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft being integrated to the 4th stage of of its launch vehicle. (Indian Space Research Organization)

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Spacecraft being integrated to the 4th stage of of its launch vehicle. (Indian Space Research Organization)

Meanwhile, NASA is making final preparations to launch a new unmanned mission to Mars that will allow scientists on Earth to examine the Red Planet’s atmosphere in greater detail.

Lift-off for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) is currently scheduled on Monday, Nov. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

In the course of its one-Earth-year primary mission, MAVEN will study the specific processes that led to Mars losing much of its atmosphere about 3.5 billion years ago.

Data sent back to Earth from MAVEN should help scientists gain a greater understanding of climate change on the Red Planet and learn more of the history of planetary habitability.

“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars’ past and present environments,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The knowledge we gain will build on past and current missions examining Mars and will help inform future missions to send humans to Mars.”

Artist's concept of the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center)

Artist’s concept of the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. (NASA)

Once it arrives at Mars, also in September 2014, and eases into its elliptical science orbit, the MAVEN will observe all of the Red Planet’s latitudes.  The spacecraft is expected to cruise around Mars at an altitude of between 158 and 6,115 km above its surface.

During its mission, MAVEN will also perform five of what NASA calls “deep dip maneuvers,” that will send the spacecraft down to an altitude of only 125 km above the surface of Mars, which scientists say is the lower boundary of the planet’s upper atmosphere.

ISRO said that NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory will also provide communications and navigation support to the Indian MOM mission.

Rick Pantaleo
Rick Pantaleo maintains the Science World blog and writes stories for VOA’s web and radio on a variety of science, technology and health topics. He also occasionally appears on various VOA programs to talk about the latest scientific news. Rick joined VOA in 1992 after a 20 year career in commercial broadcasting.

3 responses to “US, India Prep for Unmanned Missions to Mars”

  1. Dr. Arun Shukla says:

    One point has been ‘missed’ in the report, and it that while the Indian mission cost the taxpayer 69 million dollars the U.S, mission costs 679 million dollars, See for one explanation why it is so.
    Would someone like to comment on the reasons?

  2. William Harmon says:

    India is using a strict gravitational sling shot to accomplish its mission, which is extremely limited in comparison the what the USA is going to do. Also, the USA is not guessing as to whether it will work. We know it will and are willing to insure that it does.