Fingers crossed: Isro test-fires Mangalyaan liquid engine, waits for confirmation

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With  less than 48 hours left before the spacecraft enters Mars’ orbit, scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) has test-fired its liquid engine and is waiting for a final confirmation.

M Annadurai, programme director at Isro, told Hindustan Times: “The test firing is like a trial. The dormant engine has to be brought back to life. It is a challenge but if one is prepared well for the exam, the confidence for success is higher.”

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The nail-biting prelim begins at 2:30pm when the craft’s 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor engine, which has been idle for 300 days, will be fired up for four seconds. The fourth and final trajectory corrections will also be made.

 “The engine will be fired for nearly 4 seconds and almost half a kg of fuel will be needed for this operation,” says Koteshwar Rao, scientific secretary, Isro.

If the engine passes the test, then on September 24 it will be put in action along with eight thrusters to slow down Mangalyaan so it can be injected into a safe orbit around the Red Planet.

But if the engine fails the trial run, the eight thrusters will be fired up for a longer time to bring the spacecraft into Mars orbit on Wednesday.

“We are confident the engine will work. But just in case it doesn’t, we have a Plan B that involves firing the eight thrusters for a longer time but this will need more fuel,” added Rao.

Isro launched the Mangalyaan on November 5 to find evidence of life on Mars. If the spacecraft makes it, India will be the fourth after US, Russia and Europe to reach the Red planet. Once in orbit, the craft’s five payloads will take pictures and collect data for the next six months.

Probes to Mars have a high failure rate. Of the 51 missions so far, only 21 have succeeded. A similar mission by China failed in 2011.

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