India's Space Research Organisation has announced things have gone egg-shaped for its Mangalyaan Mars probe, and that's a good thing.
Mangalyaan, aka Mars Orbiter Mission or MOM, has been cobbled together for just $US74m and one consequence of that small budget is a penny-pinching plan to pinch some of Earth's energy by making close approaches to our home helped along by six engine burns designed to push it into orbits with ever-greater apogees. The second such burn took place without incident today and the craft is now in one of the egg-shaped orbits depicted below at an apogee of 40,186km.
The planned orbital trajectory of India's Mangalyaan Mars probe
After the sixth such burn Mangalyaan should reach 918,347km from Earth, a point at which its momentum will allow it to leave our gravity well and head in the direction of Mars.
That final moment of release isn't due until December 1st. Before then Mangalyaan has another four burns to make before setting sail for the temporary home of Valentine Michael Smith*. The probe is due to arrive in September 2014, at which point it will unfurl five instruments in an attempt to learn more about Mars and especially the composition of its atmosphere. ®
* Let's see what response this reference gets, shall we?