14 November 2013
The South African National Space Agency (Sansa) is taking part in India’s first Mars operation by providing satellite tracking, telemetry and command services from its ground station in Hartebeesthoek north of Johannesburg.
On 5 November, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) successfully launched the PSLV-C25 rocket carrying its Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft. Shortly thereafter, the Hartebeesthoek ground station picked up the rocket’s satellite signal and began providing the craft with transfer-orbit support services.
The Hartebeesthoek station is the closest point to the satellite per pass, said Pandey Shyam, an ISRO scientist who is currently based at the South African station.
“The satellite is in its elliptical orbit, and several manoeuvres are planned before the final Mars injection manoeuvre which should take place around 30 November,” Shyam said in a statement issued by Sansa.
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft will orbit the Earth for 20 to 25 days before embarking on a nine-month expedition to Mars.
“We were able to perform orbit determination by ranging operations from the ground station, and to place the Mars Orbiter in the correct orbit to reach Mars, and we will continue to perform various commands and maneuvers from Hartebeesthoek,” Shyam said.
Looking for signs of life
India’s first deep space mission aims to establish the country’s technological capabilities as well as to look for signs of life while orbiting and studying the red planet.
The Mars Orbiter has a methane sensor on board, an instrument unique to this mission. “If methane is detected, it could be an indication of life,” Shyam said.
If the orbiter reaches Mars successfully, India will become the first Asian country to have a spacecraft orbiting the red planet and only the sixth agency to launch a spacecraft heading for Mars.
Tiaan Strydom, the international business manager at Sansa Space Operations, said the agency was pleased to be part of the mission. “By continuously upgrading our facilities, Sansa strives to provide the space industry with a range of services to accommodate various support requests.”
Sansa successfully supported Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory launch in 2011. “We look forward to being part of many more large-scale investments and opportunities,” Strydom said.