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India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is that country’s first interplanetary mission to the Red Planet.

Launched November 5, 2013 from Sriharikota, India, the spacecraft is nearing its September 24 rendezvous with Mars. Nudging itself into orbit will require a nearly half-hour burn of a bi-propellant engine.

Space officials at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) have green-lighted a few second firing test of MOM’s 440 Newton liquid engine – last fired on December 1 to put the spacecraft on its trajectory for Mars.

The engine has not been used for over 300 days – so the few seconds of engine firing on September 22 is being done to assure MOM’s engine plumbing is up to snuff for the big burn day – some 48 hours later.

According to Indian press reports, if the large engine malfunctions there is a “Plan B” – using eight smaller thrusters onboard MOM to attain a Mars orbit, although not the intended mission-best orbit.

One of the instruments onboard the MOM is a Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) designed to measure Methane (CH4) in the Martian atmosphere with parts-per-billion accuracy and chart its sources.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is nearing arrival time at Mars. Credit: NASA/GSFC

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft is nearing arrival time at Mars.

Also beating a path to the Red Planet is NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission.

MAVEN was launched on November 18, 2013 and the orbiter is on track to arrive at Mars on September 21st.

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