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India's Martian MOM leaves the nest

Mangalyaan is bound for the red planet

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India's Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM for short, is on its way to Mars.

The cut-price probe has spent most of the last month whipping itself into a speedy frenzy, by looping about the Earth in a series of ever-higher egg-shaped orbits designed to give it enough speed to eventually fling itself in the direction of Mars. The craft yesterday accrued enough momentum to make that possible, with the assistance of what the Indian Space Resource Organisation described as a “liquid engine burn” of 1328.89 seconds that resulted in “imparted incremental velocity” of 647.96 meters per second.

The burn also pointed the probe in the general direction of Mars, where it is expected to arrive on September 24th, 2014.

As MOM's name implies, the craft is an orbiter and will spend its time peering down on the red planet in an attempt to find methane and other signatures of life.

The mission is something of a propaganda coup for India, because it was conceived of and launched in under a year for the tiny price tag of $US74m. NASA and the ESA have that kind of cash behind the sofa.

MOM Mission Control reports that the craft is doing everything expected of it, thanks to the successful deployment of a medium gain antenna designed to keep it in touch with mission control during its cruise to Mars. ®

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