India’s Budget Spacecraft On Track For Mars’ Orbit

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Affectionately referred to as MOM, the Mars Orbiter Mission is 98% of the way to entering an historic Martian orbit on no more than a paltry $75 million budget. To put that in perspective, NASA spent $671 million on its MAVEN spacecraft.

If Mangalyaan, the name of the orbiter, was to successfully enter a Mars orbit, India will become the first Asian nation to accomplish this feat. At this moment, the Indian Space and Research Organisation is engaged in a series of delicate manipulations of the orbiter in order to establish this bit of engineering on a dime.

Mars Orbiter Mission: Excellence on the cheap

“We have to excel,” space agency chief K. Radhakrishnan said.

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India is desperate to show the world the capabilities of its home-grown space program and its ability to perform complex tasks and missions given the potential commercial boon to the nation of 1.2 billion people with millions of engineers, software authors and advanced degree individuals.

Attempts to orbit the “Red Planet” have been largely marked with a lack of success in the past with the majority of efforts failing to obtain their aims. 23 out of 41 missions to Mars have met with failure including a botched effort by Japan at the close of the last millennium in 1999.

“The spacecraft is healthy. It has completed 98 percent of its journey to Mars,” Radhakrishnan said. The Indian space agency confirmed that MOM had a “perfect burn for 4 seconds as programmed” that adjusted its trajectory.

India close to joining others

Yesterday saw the orbiter reach the point where it began to feel Mars’ gravitational pull just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Bangalore to visit the space agency’s command center.

The history of Mars’ flights began with a flyby by the United States’ Mariner 4 in 1964 with the former Soviet Union following in 1971. The European Space Agency achieved a successful mission  in 2003.

In addition to the Indian mission, Mars has three satellites orbiting the planet while NASA is also operating its Curiosity and Opportunity rovers exploring the planet’s surface.