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India's Mars mission encounters hurdle in Earth orbit

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India's recently launched Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) ran into a bit of trouble this weekend when a planned engine burn failed to raise the spacecraft to the correct orbital distance around Earth in the lead-up to its Mars departure, scheduled for later this month.

BBC's Paul Rincon explains:

The problem occurred during a manoeuvre designed to boost the craft's maximum distance from 71,623km to 100,000km.

A problem with the liquid fuel thruster caused the 1,350kg vehicle to fall short of the mark.

But the head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said the spacecraft remained "healthy".

As a solution, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) - known informally as Mangalyaan, or Mars-craft - will be commanded to execute an additional thruster firing at 05:00 IST on Tuesday (23:30 GMT on Monday) to make up for the shortfall.

Instead of flying directly to Mars, the probe is scheduled to orbit Earth until the end of the month, building up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet's gravitational pull.

This was the fourth in a series of five engine burns known as "midnight manoeuvres" because several constraints require that they are carried out in the early hours of the morning.


Getting to Mars is notoriously difficult, as Russia learned (again) in 2011 with its failed Phobos-Grunt Mission. Thankfully, it sounds like this is just a minor snag for MOM. Fingers crossed for NASA's Mars MAVEN mission, which is set to launch in just one week's time.