Mangalyaan was a success for ISRO. Especially the budget management part.

Cheaper than a cab ride!

On September 2014, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) achieved what no other space agency has achieved - launching a space probe to Mars and being successful in the first attempt. Mangalyaan was a mission accomplished on a budget of under $74 million, cheaper than the total production cost of the movie Martian.

{00:20} Yes, you heard it right! It cost less than a movie about Mars. How did India achieve this feat?

{01:00} 2014 was a great year for ISRO. On September 24th the Prime Minister announced the successful Martian orbital insertion of Mangalyaan. India was the first country to send a space probe to Mars at a low budget as $74 million, less than what it would cost in an auto rickshaw.

{02:55} The inception of the project happened back in 2008. It took around six years to complete. After the success of the Chandrayaan mission to the Moon, next step was a successful interplanetary probe. It was announced by G Madhavan Nair who was the chairman of ISRO. Indian space agency started in 1969. India launched Aryabhatta, the first satellite in 1975. Ove the years, India developed launch vehicles like PSLV - Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle and GSLV - Geo-Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle.


{04:13} Primary objective of Mangalyaan was to successfully insert the space probe into an orbit around Mars. Mars travel is much more complicated than a moon mission because of the distance. The communication takes time while on a Mars mission. Based on the orientation of the antenna, it could take anywhere between 8 - 45 minutes. The journey took 11 months.

{06:57} The secondary objective was to explore Mars using remote sensing technology and to study the moon Phobos of Mars. The Mars orbiter was around the size of an auto rickshaw and weighed around 1337kg. 856kg was propellant. The space agency had to miniaturise the spacecraft to reduce the cost. Powered by three solar panels and a lithium ion battery for backup. The spacecraft was developed in Bangalore.

Launch vehicles

{09:30} Initially GSLV was planned as a launch vehicle, but due to setbacks in testing, GSLV could not be used due to time constraints. So ISRO had to go back to PSLV, which was used in the launch of Chandrayaan. There is a very narrow launch window to Mars. If the chance is missed, it would be 24 months before another window opens up.

{10:56} PSLV satellite is used to launch a smaller payload into a low earth polar orbit. Normally used for weather satellites to enable them to be able to scan the earth during a 24 hour period. GSLV is used for heavier payload missions with the capability to put a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, that is, an orbit in which the satellite appears to maintain a relatively fixed position over a point on the surface of the earth. Used for communication satellites. PSLV was less powerful compared to GSLV. ISRO used Hohmann’s transfer methodology to send the spacecraft to Mars.

Hohmann’s transfer

{13:45} The low earth orbit of the spacecraft is modified into highly elliptical orbit by providing thrust at the perigee point. Multiple such boosts were planned and eventually, the orbit becomes so much elongated that it leaves earth’s sphere of influence and moves into a heliocentric orbit. In the case of Mangalyaan, the path of the spacecraft was calculated in such a way that when it intersects Mars’ orbit, they would meet at the point.

Communication and other challenges

{16:31} To ensure continuous communication and data transfer from the spacecraft, 32 ground centres were setup around the world. Sriharikota, Port Blair, Indonesia, Brunei and Canberra were few of the locations. Post the launch, communications control moves from Shriharikota to Port Blair, then to Brunei and to Indonesia. After Indonesia till Canberra, there are no land masses to setup a tracking station. So ISRO decided to use two navy vessels to act as ground stations to track the spacecraft.

{19:00} To contain the mission well within the budget of $74 million, so they used gravity assisted flight to get to Mars using the Hohmann’s transfer method. After the launch, the craft spent around 25 days in earth’s orbit undergoing Hohmann’s transfer. There were some challenges during the 4th earth bound manoeuvre, so ISRO had to burn extra fuel during the remaining orbits. Apart from this, due to the high noise ratio of signals back from Mangalyaan, ISRO developed indigenous deep space network antenna.

{22:41} The engine was not used for around 298 days in the harshness of the space. There was a concern about the engine not starting as the spacecraft neared Mars. Test firing of the engine was done for 3.968 seconds less than two days before entry into Mars orbit.

{24:37} Since the probe moves to the dark side of Mars, solar panels could not provide any power. The lithium ion batteries provided backup power. Also, all the communications are cut off when the craft moves to the far side of Mars. So pre-instructed commands were given to the spacecraft a day in advance with the list of things to do while on the far side.

{26:04} India achieved the unique goal of successfully launching a spacecraft to Mars in the first attempt. India also became the fourth country to attempt a launch to Mars. it also became the first country to send a space probe to Mars from Asia and it was the cheapest mission ever to Mars. The lifetime of Mangalyaan was supposed to be six months, but it is still going strong after three years.

{27:05} The Mangalyaan team also won the 2015 Space Pioneer award in the category of Science and Engineering which awarded by US based National Space Society. Mangalyaan made India a forerunner in the race to Mars.

This is an autorickshaw!



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