AsianScientist (Jan. 9, 2012) – A Indian mission to Mars is taking shape with space scientists proposing 10 experiments, mostly related to the study of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
Proof that this challenging mission is no longer a dream is amply evident in a report of the Planetary Sciences and Exploration conference, organized by the Ahmedabad-based Planex group of the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), an affiliate of ISRO, between December 12 and 14, 2011.
The report shows that scientists from various ISRO centers and the PRL are extremely enthusiastic about the flight to the Red Planet, and are awaiting a formal ‘go’ from ISRO, the Space Commission, and the Union Cabinet.
As a precursor to the mission, a Mars Mission Study Team has already been formed to prepare the science and mission scenarios for ISRO.
In addition, a brainstorming session on Mars science and exploration was held at the PRL on March 24 and 25, 2011, as a preparatory step for ISRO’s Mars exploration plans. This two-day session served as an initial platform for scientists and students to fuel up their proposals and plans for an Indian Mars mission.
The December conference report states that the 10 Indian Martian experiments suggested are:
Probe For Infrared Spectroscopy for Mars (Prism) which will study certain aspects of the Martian atmosphere and “spatial and seasonal variations of these gases over the lifetime of the mission.”
Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (Menca) which will analyze the Martian upper atmosphere-exosphere region 400 km above the surface.
Another instrument (Tis) will measure thermal emissions from the surface of the Red Planet. Its primary science goals include mapping the surface composition and mineralogy of Mars and understanding the dynamics of the Martian atmosphere by monitoring carbon dioxide levels.
Using radio signals to study the atmosphere.
Mars Color Camera (MCC) which can image from a highly elliptical orbit of 500 km x 80,000 km. It will be designed as a multi-purpose instrument which can image the topography of the Martian surface and map Martian polar caps. “It is expected to observe and help in furthering our understanding of events like dust storms and dust devils. From an elliptical orbit around Mars, the camera will return high quality visual images of Mars, its moons, asteroids and other celestial bodies from close quarters,” the report states.
A Methane Sensor For Mars (MSM) has been recommended for detecting methane in the Martian atmosphere.
A Mars Radiation Spectrometer (Maris) which can measure and characterize charged particle background levels during the cruise and orbit phase of the spacecraft. This instrument will play an important role for a possible future human mission to Mars as it will determine radiation exposure doses.
A Plasma and Current Experiment (Pace) which will assess what is known as “atmospheric escape and processes of the Martian atmosphere and the structure of the Martian tail.”
A microwave remote sensing technique for sounding the Martian atmosphere. Scientists connected with this instrument say that it will be designed to be minimally affected during a dust storm.
A suite of instruments to detect plasma waves in the Martian atmosphere.
If this much-awaited mission finally gets off the ground with the required approvals, only some of the 10 experiments and payloads will be selected, with a focus on experiments that have not been done before, sources tell Asian Scientist Magazine.
Mars fever has gripped many scientists at the PRL, with an Indian chapter of the Mars Society formed at IIT-Mumbai.
Planning for the Mars lift off has progressed to such an extent that the provisional launch windows have already been fixed for either 2013, 2016, or 2018 from Sriharikota, India’s main spaceport near Chennai.
According to the scientists, if the launch takes place in November 2013, then the Indian spacecraft will enter the orbit around Mars in September 2014. It will be an orbiting mission and not a landing one. On reaching Mars after a 10-month flight, the spacecraft will operate and pick up scientific data in a highly elliptical orbit of 500 km x 80,000 km.
Some scientists even feel that the mission to Mars must be given precedence over the second Indian mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, since India has already done a lunar mission successfully.