Changing Planet

India Reaches Mars With Low-Cost Mission

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft
An artist’s depiction shows NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft flying above Mars. NASA/Goddard

India’s new entrant into orbit around Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is a triumph for its  space agency and represents the fourth country to successfully send a spacecraft to the red planet. At a reported cost of $73 million, the mission is also a feat for lower cost exploration.

Launched on November 5, 2013, the MOM spacecraft reached Mars and fired its rocket engines for a little over 23 minutes to enter orbit beginning at 10:17 pm EDT on Tuesday (7:17 a.m.  Indian Standard Time on Wednesday). There it joins NASA’s $671 million MAVEN orbiter, which itself just arrived. (See: “With NASA Probe’s Arrival, International Mars Invasion Gets Under Way.”)

“The spacecraft is now circling Mars,” announced the Indian Space Research Organization in a statement on Wednesday. MOM will travel on an elongated, 72-hour orbit that swings as low as 261 miles (421 kilometers) and out to 47,841 miles (76,994 kilometers) above the red planet.

MOM bears five scientific instruments with devices to measure methane, atmospheric hydrogen, surface temperature, and atmospheric pressure, as well as a camera for scanning the Martian surface. Some are similar to instruments used on previous Indian lunar missions.

Cheaper Than Gravity

“It was an impressive engineering feat, and we welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden in a statement on MOM joining MAVEN at Mars. “We look forward to MOM adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars.”

He should be impressed—for the price, the Indian mission is hard to beat, even adding in the cost of the launch rocket, an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle that costs around $15 million per launch. “India’s Recent Rocket Launch Cost Less Than the Film ‘Gravity,’ ” noted a headline in the July Business Insider that looked at a PSLV launch of four satellites.

For perspective on MOM’s $73 million price tag, here are some other notable Mars missions and their costs: 

—NASA’s Mariner 4 (1964), the first spacecraft to reach Mars, cost about $83.4 million.

—Viking missions (1975), which tested Mars for biological activity, cost about one billion dollars.

—Mars Pathfinder (1998), which carried the little Sojourner rover that revived interest in Mars, cost $254 million.

—Mars Science Laboratory (2009), which delivered the Curiosity rover now exploring a Martian mountain, cost $2.5 billion.

Not all the difference in price reflects cheap Indian launch costs. The big-ticket NASA missions mentioned above involved landing on Mars, and even the doughty Mars Pathfinder rover, which cost a little more than three times MOM, deposited a rover on a planet’s surface.

Some of the savings reflects spacecraft weight, which adds to rocket fuel costs: MOM weighed just 2,947 pounds (1,337 kilograms) at launch, according to ISRO. That’s still more than Mars Pathfinder, which weighed 1,973 pounds (895 kilograms), including a landing bubble that cradled the Sojourner rover.

But in general, more weight means better instruments and a more capable spacecraft. The Mars Science Laboratory mission spacecraft weighed 8,583 pounds (3,893 kilograms) at launch, for example.

“All space exploration expands the frontiers of scientific knowledge and improves life for everyone on Earth,” Bolden says. “We commend this significant milestone for India.”

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.

 

 

 

  • Mehdi Abedian

    CONGRATULATIONS INDIA…

    But i think the Needs of 400 miljon peoples of India to ELECTRIFICATION AND EDUCATION is most Important thing than..

  • Mehdi Abedian

    CONGRATULATIONS INDIA…

    But i think the Needs of 400 miljon peoples of India to ELECTRIFICATION AND EDUCATION is most Important thing than..

  • Dr Ramana

    It definitely paves way for the growth of science, research, communications and integrated development

  • Dr Ramana

    It definitely paves way for the growth of science, research, communications and integrated development

  • Bhaskar

    Electricity and education is already available to all Indians Mehdi Abedian..need less to say we cant ignore any area of development. To some of the fellow readers don’t be hypocritical.

  • Bhaskar

    Electricity and education is already available to all Indians Mehdi Abedian..need less to say we cant ignore any area of development. To some of the fellow readers don’t be hypocritical.

  • Gianfranco Fronzi

    Bravo India .
    Together we all could come out of this alive and looking good .
    Apart , we as mankind , could fail ?
    Keep up the research , your friends in America .

  • Gianfranco Fronzi

    Bravo India .
    Together we all could come out of this alive and looking good .
    Apart , we as mankind , could fail ?
    Keep up the research , your friends in America .

  • Ibrahim Tng

    Congratulations INDIA…

  • Ibrahim Tng

    Congratulations INDIA…

  • Amritpal

    @Mehdi: I think there so many other issues as in other countries. Why do you all people think India is so poor? And why do YOU have to think about our problems? Why can’t you just accept that we have a big step into the elite group.

    US is suffering from recession since last decade. So many bankrupcies but India’s economy is booming.

    Please clear your facts before recommending!

  • Amritpal

    @Mehdi: I think there so many other issues as in other countries. Why do you all people think India is so poor? And why do YOU have to think about our problems? Why can’t you just accept that we have a big step into the elite group.

    US is suffering from recession since last decade. So many bankrupcies but India’s economy is booming.

    Please clear your facts before recommending!

  • Pramjeet

    @Mehdi Abedian
    India spent $75 million on mars mission doesn’t mean India put $75 million cash in a rocket and fired it towards mars.
    It actually means that money was spent on so many jobs, developing low cost technology and much more.
    And India will earn much more money from its commercial satelite launches and missions like this boost confidence on both Indian space agency and its customers.

  • Pramjeet

    @Mehdi Abedian
    India spent $75 million on mars mission doesn’t mean India put $75 million cash in a rocket and fired it towards mars.
    It actually means that money was spent on so many jobs, developing low cost technology and much more.
    And India will earn much more money from its commercial satelite launches and missions like this boost confidence on both Indian space agency and its customers.

  • Loco

    Just a little note about the picture that illustrates the article. Is it Mars? Or the moon coloured in red tones? As far as I know Mars’s not that close to Earth! So why the completely inaccurate representation? Artist’s depiction of what? It’s meant to be cute? I thought this was the National Geographic’s web page not the David Zwirner art gallery.

  • Loco

    Just a little note about the picture that illustrates the article. Is it Mars? Or the moon coloured in red tones? As far as I know Mars’s not that close to Earth! So why the completely inaccurate representation? Artist’s depiction of what? It’s meant to be cute? I thought this was the National Geographic’s web page not the David Zwirner art gallery.

  • bhoj sanmbhy

    it all started when in 1963 Indias first rocket was transported to lift-off pad ON A BICYCLE.

    http://bhoj11.blogspot.in/2013/11/indias-first-rocket-transported-on.html

  • bhoj sanmbhy

    it all started when in 1963 Indias first rocket was transported to lift-off pad ON A BICYCLE.

    http://bhoj11.blogspot.in/2013/11/indias-first-rocket-transported-on.html

  • Roberto pepito

    Good luck India.

  • Roberto pepito

    Good luck India.

  • Roberto pepito

    Congratulations India and good luck.

  • Roberto pepito

    Congratulations India and good luck.

  • rahul mehta

    mehdi abedian I think u are jealous wait and watch u all will be under r foot

  • rahul mehta

    mehdi abedian I think u are jealous wait and watch u all will be under r foot

  • syed ameen hasan

    I feel very proudly .yes i am anindian.Yes India is a great .knowing all world yet known.

  • syed ameen hasan

    I feel very proudly .yes i am anindian.Yes India is a great .knowing all world yet known.

  • Ernest Gomez

    While it is a great accomplishment for India, I think that 1 billion people is in need of the more basic needs, and so is China.

  • Ernest Gomez

    While it is a great accomplishment for India, I think that 1 billion people is in need of the more basic needs, and so is China.

  • Justin Tang

    Congratulation India! You all made that! Proud of 800 Million people on earth!!!

  • Justin Tang

    Congratulation India! You all made that! Proud of 800 Million people on earth!!!

  • Mohamed Zeyada

    It is a one, but great, step to the future which should inspire other developing countries.

  • Mohamed Zeyada

    It is a one, but great, step to the future which should inspire other developing countries.

  • Global Indian

    Why there is no mention that India is the first country to have a success at the first mission?!

  • Global Indian

    Why there is no mention that India is the first country to have a success at the first mission?!

  • Global Indian

    So what is the reason for moderating out my previous comment? May I know please.Profanity, Vulgar, Racism or do you want to suppress the fact? I dont expect it from Nat Geo!

    India is the first country to achieve this feat in its first attempt.

  • Global Indian

    So what is the reason for moderating out my previous comment? May I know please.Profanity, Vulgar, Racism or do you want to suppress the fact? I dont expect it from Nat Geo!

    India is the first country to achieve this feat in its first attempt.

  • niyat praharaj

    Excellent achievement for india

  • niyat praharaj

    Excellent achievement for india

  • Vinny Chirayil

    CORRECTION Nat Geo – (1) India is the 3rd country after USA and Russia to reach Mars. I understand that Europe also did it but it is a continent , not a country. Please do not report like a cheap tabloid. (2) I also noticed that you failed to mention that India is the only country in the world to do this in the 1st attempt itself ! In my book, that is a world record ! Either you are biased or you don’t know the facts. (3) Even a kid could have got the images for this article from ISRO’s facebook page but obviously you lack even the basic competencies. Hence, you show NASA images for an article on India’s Mars mission.

  • Vinny Chirayil

    CORRECTION Nat Geo – (1) India is the 3rd country after USA and Russia to reach Mars. I understand that Europe also did it but it is a continent , not a country. Please do not report like a cheap tabloid. (2) I also noticed that you failed to mention that India is the only country in the world to do this in the 1st attempt itself ! In my book, that is a world record ! Either you are biased or you don’t know the facts. (3) Even a kid could have got the images for this article from ISRO’s facebook page but obviously you lack even the basic competencies. Hence, you show NASA images for an article on India’s Mars mission.

  • Code27

    I wonder if the U.S gets to do stuff like this???I’m just wondering.

  • Code27

    I wonder if the U.S gets to do stuff like this???I’m just wondering.

  • Suresh

    Blast off from your boundaries, you are talking about space travel where there is neither boundaries nor horizon. Do not take your barriers there you will end up fighting each other, creating another GAZA.

  • Suresh

    Blast off from your boundaries, you are talking about space travel where there is neither boundaries nor horizon. Do not take your barriers there you will end up fighting each other, creating another GAZA.

  • Karrah

    Very cool article,it took me FOREVER to find out what I wanted to do for an essay.Until,I came across this!Thanks for the info.

  • Karrah

    Very cool article,it took me FOREVER to find out what I wanted to do for an essay.Until,I came across this!Thanks for the info.

  • Roll T

    I agree with Suresh.Let’s not get into any kind of argument and just be normal,making nice comment.Or take our barriers any where else.
    .

  • Roll T

    I agree with Suresh.Let’s not get into any kind of argument and just be normal,making nice comment.Or take our barriers any where else.
    .

  • shri
  • shri

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