An Indian spacecraft has just completed its fifth year in orbit around Mars last week. As the spacecraft nears the end of its design term, this moment seems to deserve a little more recognition.
When he launched the Orbiter Mars mission in November 2013, India had never attempted interplanetary flight before. And Mars is truly treacherous. About 50% of the spacecraft sent to Mars do not work either when launching, or attempting to orbit, or landing. India did it on the first attempt in the country, with a budget well below $ 100 million. The spacecraft remains in good working order, with fuel for at least one more year of operation.
Until the orbiter made any huge new scientific discoveries, he had neither the best cameras nor tools among the modest 15 kg payload. it gained much more weight symbolically as it expanded the Mars exploration community beyond the traditional space-traveling countries. Before Orbiter's mission arrived in Mars, only the United States, the Soviet Union, and the European Space Agency successfully sent robotic missions to Mars.
"This benefits everyone in more planetary intelligence," said Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist and doctoral student at Arizona State University. "Space exploration is difficult. Therefore, India's success as a space country, especially as one that can launch a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, increases the ability to cooperate between countries, both scientifically and in terms of engineering."
The success of the Mars Orbiter Mission is all the more noticeable given the recent setbacks both to Mars and to landing on the moon. In 2016, the European Space Agency successfully put into space on Mars the Trace Gas Orbiter spacecraft, but its landing of Chiaparelli was lost after the premature release of its parachute. And three of the last six missions attempting to reach the moon's orbit or the surface of the moon between 2018 and 2019 have failed. This was the recent Indian landing of Vikram in July.
"The Indian Space Agency must be very proud of this success," said Thomas Zurbbuchen, NASA's director of scientific research. "With this mission, India has won the chance and become one of the few countries that have successfully achieved this. This mission also continues to pursue value science."
Just as the Apollo program did for the United States during the 1960s, the Orbitter Mars Mission also helped inspire Indians for science and technology.
"The Indian Space Program is very important to this nation, for similar reasons that the American Space Program is important to the Americans – it seeks, it stretches the best of its citizens, it requires man to stretch his imagination and his potential as a producer and translate great ideas into reality, "said Renu Malhotra, professor of planetary science at Arizona State University. "I was also amazed that India's space program carefully defines the goals of sound science for each mission."
However, in all this, the mission of Orbiter Mars, in fact, acted as a demonstrator of technology for future Indians on a mission to the Red Planet. India has been working on a further mission with a larger spacecraft, but it has yet to formally announce any plans.
List of ISRO images