India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Scheduled to Reach Mars Today


We have seen two historic firsts today, September 24:

  • The arrival of India’s first interplanetary space mission at its goal
  • A completely successful first attempt to reach Mars (the Russians and the Americans had to try multiple times; technically, the orbiter part of Europe’s first mission – the Mars Express – has been very successful, but its Beagle 2 lander was lost).
We can do this.  Indian Space Research Organization
“We can do this” – Indian Space Research Organization

Today the Mars Orbiter Mission – MOM, or (Mangalyaan, which reportedly means “Mars vehicle”) – has succeeded on its first attempt at orbital insertion around Mars. Unlike NASA’s MAVEN (an atmospheric research orbiter that successfully entered Martian orbit three days ago), Mangalyaan did have a second chance to do this in another couple of days, if the first attempt didn’t work, but it didn’t need it.

Other differences between these two newest Mars orbiters include size, their missions, and the paths they took to the Red Planet. They also have some things in common.

MOM and MAVEN Comparisons/Contrasts

Mars Orbiter Mission MAVEN
Date launched: November 5, 2013 November 18, 2013
Date left Earth orbit: November 30, 2013 November 18, 2013
Trajectory: Gravity assist Direct to Mars
Payload mass: 33 pounds (15 kg) 143 pounds (65 kg)
Size: Comparable to a small car Comparable to a school bus
Power: 840 watts 1,135 watts
Launch vehicle: Polar satellite launch vehicle Atlas V with Centaur assist
Date(s) of orbit insertion: September 24 or September 27, 2014 September 21, 2014
Mission: Demonstrate and test technology and operations required for interplanetary travel; methane detection; study Martian surface Study the upper Martian atmosphere
Mars orbit: Elliptical, 76.72 Earth hours Elliptical, 4.5 Earth hours
Planned mission length: 6 Earth months 1 Earth year
Mission cost in USD: 75 million 671 million
Mission website(s): ISRO NASA and UC Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics

The price tag and Earth orbit departures are the biggest differences between the US and Indian missions.

Of note, while it took Mangalyaan weeks to leave our neighborhood, the craft was able to tap into Earth’s angular momentum to such an extent that it really sped along once it left and is now ready for Mars orbit insertion only a few days after MAVEN. Certainly there is a savings in propellant there, but smaller payload size (with corresponding limitations on equipment) and lower production costs were the major contributors to cost reduction on the Mars Orbiter Mission.

Is there a way to combine the two approaches, I wonder, so that by the time manned Mars missions are ready, mankind can have the most cost effective science, safety margins, and human comfort possible?

Hope so.

At the moment, NASA has helped ISRO guide Mangalyaan to Mars by providing key communications and navigation support through the Deep Space Network. Today its MAVEN mission team watched closely as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) brought their spacecraft in.

Spaceflight101’s MOM updates page.


More information:

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