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Orbiter on track

New Delhi, April 10: India’s Mars orbiter spacecraft launched last year has travelled more than 340 million kilometres and crossed the halfway point on its journey to Mars, the Indian Space Research Organisation said yesterday.

The spacecraft, travelling at an average speed of about 27km per second, is on its intended trajectory, has been responding to periodic tests initiated from ground stations and is “in good health,” the Isro said in a statement.

The space agency is continuously monitoring the spacecraft using a deep space network antenna in Karnataka with complementary support provided by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s jet propulsion laboratory.

The radio distance between the spacecraft and the Earth is about 39 million kilometres, and signals from a ground station to the spacecraft and back to Earth takes about four minutes and 15 seconds.

The spacecraft, launched on November 5, is expected to approach Mars in September this year. It is carrying five scientific instruments for remote studies of the atmosphere, weather and surface features of Mars.

A senior Isro official said a minor trajectory correction (TC) that was anticipated to be conducted in April has been considered not required because the spacecraft is in its designated trajectory. The next TC is expected to be carried out in June this year.

When the spacecraft approaches Mars, ground engineers will need to fire a liquid rocket motor to slow it down for the gravity of Mars to capture it. “This will be a big challenge as we’ll be trying to restart the engine after about nine months of hibernation,” an Isro official told The Telegraph.

The manoeuvres to insert the spacecraft into the orbit of Mars are expected to begin on September 24.