Review of orbital images confirms source of largest Mars quake was not an impact

Location of May quake
The white patches mark the locations on Mars of the largest quakes
detected by InSight. The green dotted patch marks this particular 4.7 quake.

Scientists reviewing images from several different orbiters have confirmed that the source of the largest Mars quake detected by InSight, 4.7 magnitude, was not caused by a meteorite impact and thus proves that movement in the interior of Mars is still occurring.

The quake, which had a magnitude of 4.7 and caused vibrations to reverberate through the planet for at least six hours, was recorded by NASA’s InSight lander on Wednesday 4 May 2022. Because its seismic signal was similar to previous quakes known to be caused by meteoroid impacts, the team believed that this event (dubbed ‘S1222a’) might have been caused by an impact as well, and launched an international search for a fresh crater.

…During its time on Mars, InSight (which was co-designed by the University of Oxford) recorded at least 8 marsquake events caused by meteoroid impacts. The largest two of these formed craters around 150m in diameter. If the S1222a event was formed by an impact, the crater would be expected to be at least 300m in diameter. Each group examined data from their satellites orbiting Mars to look for a new crater, or any other tell-tale signature of an impact (e.g. a dust cloud appearing in the hours after the quake).

After several months of searching, the team announced today that no fresh crater was found.

You can read their paper here. To do the survey, the team used data from the American orbiters Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and also enlisted help from scientists controlling the data from Europe’s Mars Express, China’s Tianwen-1, India’s Mangalyaan, and the United Arab Emirates’ Al-Mal.

The results suggest the quake occurred at “a dip-slip fault in the mid-crust, consistent with an origin between 18 and 28 km depth,” as stated in the conclusion of their paper. More analysis is necessary, but this result proves that the Martian interior still active enough to produce relatively large quakes..

India’s Mars orbiter mission ends after eight years

After eight years in orbit around Mars, India’s Mars orbiter mission, Mangalyaan, has run out of fuel for controlling its orientation, ending its mission.

The Rs 450 crore Mars Orbiter Mission was launched onboard PSLV-C25 on November five, 2013, and the MOM spacecraft was successfully inserted into Martian orbit on September 24, 2014 in its first attempt. “Right now, there is no fuel left. The satellite battery has drained,” sources in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told PTI. “The link has been lost”.

There was, however, no official word from the country’s national space agency, headquartered here.

During its mission it produced more than a thousand images, though the mission’s primary objective was technological, proving that India itself could design, build, launch, and manage a planetary mission to another world. For India, Mangalyaan was thus an unqualified success.

India’s Mars orbiter confirms global dust storms speeds atmosphere loss

India’s Mars orbiter Mission (MOM) has confirmed that the periodic Martian global dust storms act to accelerate the loss of the red planet’s atmosphere.

The U.S. orbiter MAVEN found the same thing during the 2018 global dust storm. Moreover, the two orbiters focused on observing different hemispheres (MOM in the morning and MAVEN in the evening), and bot got comparable results.

An orbital change extends the life of India’s Mars orbiter

An orbital maneuver has allowed India’s Mars Orbiter Mission avoid an eight hour period with no sunlight — thus draining its batteries — so that the mission can be extended until 2020.

The on-board battery which was to take over had a life of just about 1.4 hours, while the eclipse was to last for 8 hours. The spacecraft’s future was bleak.

The scientists thought of a solution. On the night of January 17, a team of eight engineers at Indian Space Research Organisation’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network, Bengaluru, sent a time-delayed command to the Mars probe. The command set in motion firing of eight on-board thruster rockets. Each of them were fired for 431 seconds, pushing the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) space probe to a new orbit that completely avoids an eclipse up to September 2017. The shadowing in September is of a smaller duration, which the satellite’s batteries can handle. “Because of the crucial orbital change, the MOM now gets three additional years’ life. We are expecting it to transmit data till 2020,” Isro chairman A S Kiran Kumar told DH.

The mission’s science data is not as important as the experience it is giving Indian engineers in operating a planetary probe remotely from Earth. This success speaks well for the future of India’s space effort.

Design flaw in India’s Mars Orbiter

According to American researchers, a fundamental design flaw in the primary scientific instrument on India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter prevents it from carrying out its mission of measuring the methane in the Martian atmosphere.

“They did not design this properly for the detection of methane on Mars,” Michael Mumma, senior scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told Seeker. In 2003, Mumma led a team that made the first definitive measurements of methane on Mars using an infrared telescope in Hawaii. The methane, which appeared in plumes over specific regions of Mars, reached a maximum density of about 60 parts per billion. “The (MOM) instrument is beautifully engineered, but not for the methane task. It has other value, but unfortunately they will not be able to provide measurements of methane at the levels needed to sample even the plumes we saw,” Mumma said.

They are re-purposing the instrument to measure the reflected sunlight coming off the Martian surface, useful data to be sure but hardly worth an entire space mission.

India extends Mangalyaan’s mission by six months

Western slopes of Arsia Mons

Having successfully completed its nominal six month mission and continuing to operate perfectly, ISRO has extended the mission of India’s Mangalyaan Mars orbiter for another six months.

Take a gander at the images the orbiter has been sending down. Quite impressive. The cropped image on the right shows the western slopes of the giant volcano Arsia Mons, with white water vapor hovering above those slopes. (Click on the image for the full resolution version.) The water vapor is significant because scientists believe that this region once had many glaciers, and that much of that water is still present and trapped below the surface as ice, possibly in many of the caves that are there. The vapor’s presence, a routine occurance here, strengthens this theory.

New images from Mangalyaan

Arsia Mons

Indian scientists have released a new set of color images taken by their Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan.

The image on the right is of Arsia Mons, one of the three giant volcanoes to the east of Mars’ biggest volcano, Olympus Mons. Arsia Mons is important for future manned colonization, as there are known caves on its western flanks. In addition, those western flanks show solid evidence of past glaciers, which means that it is very likely that those caves will harbor significant quantities of water-ice, making settlement much easier.

India’s Mangalyaan Mars probe working fine

After three months in orbit around Mars, India’s Mangalyaan spacecraft continues to function as designed, and is expected to operate beyond its planned six month mission.

In the last three months, Mangalyaan has captured nearly 300 pictures. On an average the spacecraft takes four pictures in three days. Besides capturing the images of dust storm activities, it has also taken images of comet Siding Spring.

Because of Mangalyaan’s orbit and the wide-angle nature of its camera the pictures are generally global. This output also is not spectacular compared to other probes. Nonetheless, this is an achievement for which India should be proud.

Mangalyaan’s first global images of Mars

Indian engineers have released the first global images taken by Mangalyaan.

As MOM’s orbit is highly elliptical, reaching from 262 miles (periareon — closest approach) to 47,841 miles (apoareon — farthest extent), we can expect a lot more global views from Mars’ newest satellite, providing us with a beautiful global perspective of a planet that currently has seven robotic missions (from three different space agencies) exploring it.

These images suggest that a dust storm is beginning to stir on the Martian surface.

Mangalyaan sends its first Mars pictures

Mangalyaan's first image of Mars

Indian engineers have posted Mangalyaan’s first image on the spacecraft’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as presented the photo to their nation’s leader.

My first reaction when I looked at the image above was an immediate flashback to 1969, when the American probes Mariner 6 and Mariner 7 flew past Mars, taking images of its cratered southern hemisphere and thus making scientists think for several years that Mars was not much different than the Moon. The Indian image is of about the same quality, and shows lots of moon-like craters.

Image if this was the first close-up image of Mars anyone had ever seen. It would be very easy to assume that Mars is pockmarked with craters everywhere, just like the Moon.

Why India’s Mars probe was so cheap

Alan Boyle has some interesting thoughts on why it cost India so little, less than the budget of the movie Gravity, to build and send its probe Mangalyaan to Mars.

The $74 million Mars Orbiter Mission, also known by the acronym MOM or the Hindi word Mangalyaan (“Mars-Craft”), didn’t just cost less than the $100 million Hollywood blockbuster starring Sandra Bullock. The price tag is a mere one-ninth of the cost of NASA’s $671 million Maven mission, which also put its spacecraft into Mars orbit this week. The differential definitely hints at a new paradigm for space exploration — one that’s taking hold not only in Bangalore, but around the world. At the same time, it hints at the dramatically different objectives for MOM and Maven, and the dramatically different environments in which those missions took shape.

Read it all. It gives us a hint at the future of space exploration.

Success for India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

The competition heats up: On Wednesday morning India’s Mars orbiter Mangalyaan successfully fired its engines and attained Mars orbit.

More here.

There are probably three dozen stories in the India press today extolling this success. And there should be. As described in detail in the second link above, India did this mission smart, simple, and fast, showing everyone else that a science mission doesn’t have to take a decade and a billion dollars to be get built.

I expect that this success will quickly lead to the Indian manned flight tests their space agency ISRO has been advocating for the past few years.

The next week in space

For the next week there are going to be a number of important events that will determine the success or failure of a number of important space missions. I thought I’d lay out the schedule in a quick post, just to make it clear.

  • Falcon 9 launch: SpaceX is hoping to launch its Dragon capsule to ISS tonight at 2:14 am (eastern). If they are successful, it will be the fourth Falcon 9 launch since July 14. That is a very fast-paced launch schedule, as good as any other launch company’s, and more evidence that SpaceX is an effective competitor in the resurgent launch market.
  • Mavin orbital insertion: NASA hopes to place this Mars mission into orbit on Sunday at around 9:50 pm (eastern).
  • India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also known as Mangalyaan: There are two important events this week for this mission. First, on Monday, September 22, engineers will do a test firing of the spacecraft’s engine, which has been inactive for the last several months during its cruise to Mars. If that firing is successful, they will do the orbital insertion burn on Wednesday, September 24.

So, stay tuned this week for some fun stuff. And as I’ve been saying, this is only the beginning.

The competition in space continues to heat up

Two news stories today indicate that things are going to get increasingly interesting in the exploration of space in the coming years.

First there is this story from Joe Abbott of the Waco Tribune, who routinely reports on SpaceX news because their McGregor test facility is nearby. In it Abbott reports that SpaceX has scheduled its next Dragon supply mission to ISS for no early than September 20.

This news item however is not Abbott’s most interesting news. He also notes several twitter reports coming out a commercial satellite conference in Paris that indicate that SpaceX has closed 9 deals, including several more for its as yet unflown Falcon Heavy.

But even that is not the most interesting news. Abbott also reports that a replacement for the destroyed Falcon 9R test vehicle will be shipped to McGregor for testing in less than two months. Considering how long it takes governments to build and fly test vehicles, getting this replacement in shape for flight mere months after the failure a few weeks ago is quite impressive.

But even that was not Abbott’s most interesting SpaceX news item. » Read more

India’s Mangalyaan Mars probe successfully completed its first midcourse correction maneuver today.

India’s Mangalyaan Mars probe successfully completed its first midcourse correction maneuver today.

As with the images the probe took of Earth, the success of this maneuver demonstrates the ability of the probe’s engineers to control, operate, and precisely point the spacecraft’s engine. It also proves that engine works as designed.

Here’s an interesting cultural tidbit: Of the 200,000 people who have applied to Mars One (see my previous post below) to go on its proposed one-way mission to Mars, India has the second most applicants after the U.S.

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the US (24 per cent), India (10 per cent), China (6 per cent), Brazil (5 per cent), UK, Canada, Russia and Mexico (4 per cent), Philippines, Spain, Colombia and Argentina (2 per cent), and Australia, France, Turkey, Chile, Ukraine, Peru, Germany, Italy and Poland (1 per cent).

A fourth engine burn has put India’s Mangalyaan probe back on course.

A fourth engine burn has put India’s Mangalyaan probe back on course.

The unexpected abort during the previous burn occurred because engineers were testing the primary and secondary electrical coils that operate the engine’s valves.

During the firing on Monday morning, the team was trying to use both the primary and the redundant coils together as part of a trial. However, there was no fuel flow in this mode and the orbiter could not pick up the required velocity or reach the desired higher orbit. … A senior engineer involved in the process said, “Both the coils are working independently (but not if they are switched on together.)

Today’s burn demonstrated that nothing on the spacecraft has actually failed. As expected, simultaneous use of the two coils will no longer be attempted.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission experienced its first technical problem during an engine burn today.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission experienced its first technical problem during an engine burn today.

As scientists tried to increase the speed of the satellite as it orbited Earth Monday, the flow of fuel to the craft’s main engine stopped. Backup thruster engines kicked in to keep the speed up and help raise the spacecraft’s orbit, but the satellite’s incremental velocity dipped, the Indian Space Research Organisation said.

The spacecraft was unable to reach the desired orbiting height of 100,000 kilometers. The satellite is currently orbiting at just over 78,000 km above Earth and scientists have now altered the mission plan to include an additional engine firing Tuesday to help it reach the correct height and incremental velocity of 130 meters a second.

Engineers seem confident that the spacecraft’s back up systems will be able to pick up the slack.