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.
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.”
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.