India’s Mars spacecraft suffered a brief engine failure on Monday as scientists tried to move it into a higher orbit around Earth.
During a fourth repositioning to take it 100,000 kms from Earth, the thruster engines briefly failed, leading the auto-pilot to take over but controllers denied any setback to the ambitious low-cost mission.
Lacking a large enough rocket to blast directly out of Earth’s atmosphere and gravitational pull, the Indian spacecraft is orbiting Earth until the end of the month while building up enough velocity to break free.
The Mars Orbiter Mission, which blasted off on November 5 for an 11-month trip in an attempt to become the only Asian country to reach the Red Planet, is being launched on its way via an unusual “slingshot” method for interplanetary journeys.
“It’s not a setback at all,” Deviprasad Karnik, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), told AFP.
The spacecraft is currently at an orbit of 78,276 kilometres and will be raised again at 5am on Tuesday (23:30 GMT), an ISRO statement said.
“Tomorrow again we’ll raise the orbit to 100,000 kms,” Karnik said.
ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan has called the mission a “turning point” for India’s space ambitions and one which would go on to prove its capabilities in rocket technology.
The $73m cost of the project is less than a sixth of the $455m set aside for a Mars probe by NASA which will launch later this month.
India has never attempted interplanetary trave beforel and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure in the past, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.