India's Mangalyaan spacecraft on final approach to Mars
The traffic is building up around Mars – what with NASA's Maven craft entering orbit yesterday and now India set to make history tomorrow when its orbiter arrives at the Red Planet.
The Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Mars Orbiter Mission (MoM) yesterday successfully completed its fourth trajectory correction manoeuvre and test fired its main liquid engine that has been dormant for 10 months since firing to slingshot the craft out of Earth orbit and on its way to Mars.
"Main Liquid Engine test firing on Mars orbiter spacecraft successful: We had perfect burn for 4 seconds as programmed. The trajectory has been corrected. Mars Orbiter Mission will now go ahead with the normal plan for Mars Orbit Insertion," said ISRO.
Tomorrow comes the project's big test when ISRO fires the engine for a longer period to ease the spacecraft into an orbit around Mars. That is due for 7:17am IST (1:45am UTC) when the main engine and eight smaller ones are fired for around 24 minutes.
MoM is also known informally by its Sanskrit name, which is much more lyrical than its functional English one. Mangala is the Sanskrit word for the planet Mars and yaan, means a vehicle, so the craft is called Mangalyaan.
It was launched from ISRO's spaceport of Sriharikota in the Bay of Bengal on 5 November last year and left the Earth's orbit on 1 December.
The ISRO website is not quite as slick as NASA's but it has lots of information there, including detailed explanation of the equipment MoM is carrying (PDF), and an exploded view of the spacecraft here (also PDF), but reproduced above.
ISRO's objectives for the mission are largely preparation for ambitious plans in the future. The voyage will develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of an interplanetary mission.
Its scientific objectives are the exploration of Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere by scientific instruments developed in India.
NASA's Maven mission controllers have wished ISRO luck for its slow-down burn tomorrow.