How did India launch a Mars Mission at such a low cost?

India Mangalyaan mars Orbiter

India Mangalyaan mars Orbiter

I want to start off by saying hats off to India for joining the very small club of nations to send a mission to Mars…Well done! Mars has a history of failures, even by the largest most experienced and well funded attempts. In a world where people seem to think movie magic is reality, we tend to forget how difficult sending a probe to another planet really is. It takes technology yes, but it also takes desire, dedication, and a LOT of very hard work. I know how much work first hand and how exhilarated the team that is working this mission must be knowing they are the trailblazers for their people.

Read: India’s Mars Mission leaves Earth Orbit

This week they executed the final maneuver which broke them free from the bonds of Earths gravity and on their way to Mars. NASA spends from half a billion to billions on Mars missions. For example NASA’s $671 million Maven satellite recently launched. India managed to develop, construct and launch for about 75 million. How did they do it?

The NASA missions are larger and more sophisticated for one thing. In addition the engineering and labor cost is much higher in the U.S, about 10 times higher. These costs are part of the reason but also the India team had to operate extremely smart and efficiently, even with their lower labor costs. In India 75 million dollars is a lot of money and there seems to be a debate about the use of this money for space exploration when that money could have been spent helping the people. I am not going to get into that part of the discussion to much but I will say that a demonstration of this level of technology can do nothing but good. It will allow the businesses there to have the technical clout to win contracts for work which could in the end repay the cost of this mission many times over.

The Indian Space agency also used a smaller launch vehicle coupled with the smart use of orbital mechanics to slingshot the craft around the Earth. This significantly reduced the cost of the launch. Good management, strong engineers, and a commitment my the team is what are making this mission the success that it is, at such a low cost. To often the people who pull together the mission are overlooked and only the technology is seen. We are all pulling for this mission and hope it finishes it’s trip to Mars. Hopefully it will operate even longer than they could have hoped.

About the author

Recipient of many prestigious NASA Awards including the Exceptional Public Service Medal and the Robert H. Goddard award. Experience includes working for NASA, as a contractor, in satellite design, construction and operations. Expert in the satellite operations concepts and ground systems including command, control, and science data processing.