How does Mangalyaan (MOM) get its power?

On 5th November, 2013 remains to be a special day for Indians. It is on this day that the world including the most developed nations in the world started praising our nation of its adventure in space. Mangalyaan or MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) was launched on this day with a mere budget of Rs.454 crore, less than the budget of the Hollywood film Gravity.

The Mars Orbiter Mission probe lifted-off from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre(Sriharikota Range SHAR), Andhra Pradesh, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket C25 at 09:08 UTC on 5 November 2013. The launch window was approximately 20 days long and started on 28 October 2013. The MOM probe spent about a month in Earth orbit, where it made a series of seven apogee-raising orbital manoeuvres before trans-Mars injection on 30 November 2013 (UTC). After a 298-day transit to Mars, it was successfully inserted into Mars orbit on 24 September 2014.

The mission is a “technology demonstrator” project to develop the technologies for designing, planning, management, and operations of an interplanetary mission. It carries five instruments that will help advance knowledge about Mars to achieve its secondary, scientific objective. Those are:

  • Mars Colour Camera (MCC)
  • Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS)
  • Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM)
  • Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA)
  • Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP)

The spacecraft is currently being monitored from the Spacecraft Control Centre at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore with support from Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) antenna at Byalalu.

Now, how does this power itself for such a long mission ?

It just requires a power of 840 W. It is provided by a single solar array with three panels of 1400 x 1800 mm capable of generating 840 watts of power in Martian orbit. It will also be equipped with a 36 AH Lithium-ion battery for power storage. It consumes less than what our 1 ton AC consumes at home. Such is the compact design of the orbiter. It was also filled with minimum fuel required for its propulsion.

This is all good when there is availability of sunlight which is abundant in space. What happens when an eclipse occurs or when an object comes in the pat of sunlight and orbiter?

The orbiter was about to experience an eclipse around 19th January, 2017. If it falls in the shadow of the eclipse, it needs to stay in that shadow for 7–8 hours. The battery cannot support such a long duration. Also, it takes 6–43 minutes for the signal transfer to communicate to the orbiter form the Earth. So, it removes micro-managing totally out of the solution. Something needs to be done much before the satellite falls in the shadow.

On the evening of 17th January, 2017 ISRO maneuvered to change the orbit of Mangalyaan and reduced the time of eclipse. With this done, they were still left with 30kg fuel and sufficient battery life. Even though the primary mission of entering the Mars orbit has been completed , MOM orbits so as to get as much information as possible of our neighboring planet.

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