Why India’s Mars Mission cost so little?

indiamarsIndia’s Mars obiter reached the red planet Mars recently. This has drawn the attention of scientists the world over who wish to know and understand India’s Mars spacecraft’s relatively cheap roughly $74 million cost in comparison to several times more amount that NASA spends. Ensnared by India’s fast-paced ride into space research and development, NASA has been left with no choice but to sign an agreement with India’s space program for a joint Earth-observing satellite mission as well as a charter to establish a working group for cooperation on Mars exploration. This is significant achievement for India stride into space age.

Experts opine there are several reasons why India’s Mars Mission cost so little. These include lesser sophistication of the spacecraft compared to NASA’s MAVEN, which also reached Mars a few days later. The orbiting path that India’s Mars orbiter chose and lower labour costs too are being cited as some of the reasons.

The Indian spacecraft was a lot less sophisticated than its NASA counterpart and had lesser cameras. It is orbiting in a big oval with Mars at one end. The downside of that path is that the Indian spacecraft only gets close to Mars once every few days. But fewer firings of the engine meant the Indian spacecraft would need less fuel. That helped keep the weight down to nearly half that of the NASA mission — and that lighter load made it much cheaper to launch.

A Wall Street Journal story also points out that India’s mission cost a fraction of NASA’s $671 million MAVEN mission and points to payload, labour costs and other reasons. It says: “To hold costs down, India relied on technologies it has used before and kept the size of the payload small, at 15 kilograms. It saved on fuel by using a smaller rocket to put its spacecraft into Earth orbit first to gain enough momentum to slingshot it toward Mars.”

Whatever they say, India’s space mission has finally come of age. Even Americans are now reluctantly admitting the harsh reality. An article published in the US says that the spacecraft is mainly a “demonstration of the fact that India has the technology to reach Mars,” but adds that some science will be conducted: “In addition to cameras that will photograph Mars’ surface, it’s equipped with a few different instruments that will analyze the planet’s atmosphere, looking for methane in particular. Scientists believe that, if methane is present, it could be a sign of microbial life. Some previous crafts have detected traces of methane, but the Curiosity rover has failed to find any.

With this great development in their kitty, Indian space scientists are now envisaging a near future where the NASA’s space program may be conducted on Indian soil.


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