Tag Archives: Mangalyaan

The Indian Mechanical Martian

Image from Universe Today.

The above image is a great reminder of the playful part of conducting serious missions.  The latest mission to Mars in this case just arrived Tuesday and was placed into Mars’ orbit.  The country responsible for the mission?  India.

11 months ago, in November 2013, the Indians launched the Mangalyaan, or Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) with the goal of getting the spacecraft to Mars.  MOM is now in orbit around Mars, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is happily posting Martian snapshots (below) taken from the Mars Colour Camera payload on Mangalyaan. You can follow the ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Twitter feed here.

Mars from MOM. Image from the ISRO’s Twitter feed. Posted 1121PM on 24 Sept 2014.

Side shot of Mars from MOM. Image from ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Twitter feed, 737AM 25 Sept 14.

A lot has been written about this mission’s low price tag of about $74 million, which is significantly lower than just ULA/DoD launch pricing of $450 million.  But I’ve already written about that part earlier in the year.

Why did India send out a probe to orbit Mars?  The ISRO is extremely interested in the processes that allowed for the loss of water on Mars (at least the Delhi Daily News says so–I didn’t see it as part of the ISRO’s written mission objectives).  They also want a map of Mars’ surface.  There are a few other parts to the ISRO’s scientific objectives for MOM involving the measuring of methane levels, and discovering what minerals the red planet is also composed of.

The ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission website has a decent amount of information, as well as a few videos and images, that are all about the mission, the spacecraft, and the new data they’re collecting now.  If you’re interested in this Indian spacecraft and its mission, then you should perhaps go there to read all about it.

Is it cool that India did this on a shoestring?  Yes.  Is it awesome they even did it at all?  Definitely.  Welcome to the Mars High Club, India!!


PSLV: A SpaceX/ULA/Ariane Alternative?

A PSLV launch, but not this article’s PSLV launch. Image from Wikimedia.org.

The Indians continue proving they are in the space business for real.  The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), their success with the Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV), and their continued success with their latest launch today of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (formerly known as Sriharikota Launching Range), are all examples of India’s commitment to move forward into space.

Today’s PSLV launch successfully inserted a French SPOT 7 imagery satellite into a sun-synchronous low earth orbit (LEO).  Five small satellites were also boosted into orbit by PSLV:  Canada’s University of Toronto two satellites, numbered 4 and 5, from the Canadian advanced nanospace eXperiment program (CanX); one picosat (PSAT) and nanosat (NSAT) from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University VELOX-I; and a German ship-tracking satellite, Automatic Identification System satellite 1 (AISat 1).  All of these satellite will be in LEO as well.

Such an international satellite payload base should be no surprise when you consider the cost of a PSLV launch:  $75 million.  This is small change compared the to the mounting costs of launching a rocket through the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program run through the United Launch Alliance (ULA–about $450 million per launch–here’s why), but may be a little more that what a SpaceX launch costs ($56-$60 million).  PSLV even gives the Arianespace Ariane5 launches, which currently run at about $192 million per launch, some interesting competition.

While $75 million per launch nearly seems downright reasonable in the weird world of the space launch business, keep in mind that  that number is also nearly the price of what it cost India to run an entire Mars probe program, MOM, in which the probe, Mangalyaan, is expected to orbit the red planet this September.

GSLV, PSLV, and MOM–they are all proof positive to any doubters that the Indians are very serious about moving out into space.  Add in the very inexpensive costs of launch and space project management, and it shouldn’t be very surprising they are rapidly gaining space business from other nations.  IF the Indians, through their Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), can successfully keep the costs down while increasing launch frequency and availability, then this development could be quite a boon for India, economically, technologically, and perhaps socially(?).

I wonder if they have any work for me over there?  Hmmmm…

Low-cost Mars Probe Hack: Jugaad To Be Kidding Me

The jugaad. Very simple, very cheap, but works. Image from Wikipedia.

Americans pride themselves on entrepreneurship, independence, ingenuity, and can-do traits.  And there’s historical and current evidence of those traits to support that pride.  The Indians, however, seem to be quickly adopting these “American” traits, but at less expense.  Or maybe the traits have always been present in India, but something was suppressing them for a long time.  That’s a discussion for another blog.  This post brings to light an aspect of Indian can-do on the cheap called jugaad.

Jugaad is defined, at least according to that Book of Knowledge, Wikipedia, as an “innovative fix or simple work-around.”  Not only that, but the fix has been accomplished at the expense of some rule-bending and using something in a way it wasn’t originally intended for.  Yep, that almost sounds like a hacker mentality.  It’s not just an engineering philosophy, however:  the “truck” in the picture above is also a jugaad.  Terrible brakes, smokey diesel engine, and slow, it still gets done the job of transporting people and their things around India.  It’s what’s helping people in India live.

The jugaad philosophy has been officially adopted by engineers in at least one area:  space exploration.  Last November, the Indians successfully launched a Mars probe, the Mangalyaan.  It’s still on its way and expected to orbit Mars this September.  If this probe succeeds, it will mean India will have accomplished a feat that even China (one of the more active nations in space) has been unable to do.  But here’s the thing about India’s Mars  mission–it cost them very little to do.

Total costs for the mission are about $74-75 million.  That’s right–it cost them less to build and run the entire mission than it does for the US to launch a DoD rocket.  Now I’m sure there are some differences in cost of living and quality of life–but India’s scientists and engineers are probably very well paid.  There’s likely some favoritism going on in the contract selection process, too.

So why does it cost so much less to run a space mission in the solar system from India?  The Indians attribute some cost savings to their work ethic, noting some of their engineers put in 18-20 hour days and compare that to the typical European 35 hour work week.  Well, maybe, but that’s a very quick way to burning out people, particularly the ones needed in a space program–the “passionate ones.”

What else in this jugaad philosophy might explain the lower costs?  The Indians say they are using existing technologies to help decrease costs–but then so is ULA, and just launching one of their rockets has increased to $450 million.

It might be beneficial for US companies to make a run over to India and see what’s happening.  They might learn something.  They might be horrified that certain processes don’t exist or have been severely shortened.  But whatever it is, the US cannot afford to keep spending millions on space in Defense and Civilian programs just to get satellites in orbit (yes, yes–I know the US spends relatively little on space).  SpaceX and ULA are beating their chests right now, talking over each other about ingenuity and innovation.  One company is trying to stay on the government gravy train, and one is trying to get some of the gravy.  If companies are depending on, and running to, government for their profits, something is broken.

Maybe it’s time to adopt a hacker philosophy for space again.  We did that once, but the Indians remind us we could go jugaad again.  If we don’t, someone may eat our lunch.  Chicken tikka masala, anyone?