Shoot for the Stars... and Mars
By: Victor Peng
The first out-of-this-world mission to Mars from an Asian country. The first probe of the first country to ever make it to Mars, on its maiden voyage. That’s the Mangalyaan. This Monday, October 3, the Indian space orbiter was declared out of service and non-recoverable.
The Mangalyaan, part of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)’s Mars Orbiter Mission (the MOM), was launched 9 years ago, on November 05, 2013. It began orbiting Mars around a year later, on September 24, 2014. Since then, the Mangalyaan has been collecting valuable scientific data about Mars and its two moons.
Schematic of the Mangalyaan (ISRO, https://www.isro.gov.in/MOM_NationalMeet_2022SEP.html)
Budgeted at $74 million, a few million dollars cheaper than Boeing’s cheapest commercial airliner, almost a ninth of the US’s budget for their MAVEN Mars mission (November 18, 2013 and still active), the Indian space probe was a miracle to behold. How did they make it on such a low budget? The ISRO kept it small. Instead of targeting a variety of different studies like NASA does, the ISRO targeted specific scientific fields, and carried fewer tools. Of course, the probe would be less capable, but ISRO chose some very important fields of study that will add on to what other nation’s space agencies, such as NASA or ESA, are doing.
For example, aboard MOM is the MSM, or the Methane Sensor for Mars. Weighing 6.5 pounds, or 2.94 kilograms, the methane sensor measures the atmosphere of Mars. Methane on Earth is very closely related to living organisms. Scientists wanted to see if they could detect life on Mars by tracking down methane sources, such as methane-emitting insects.. Aside from the MSM, there are four other components aboard the MOM, including a color camera and an infrared imager. The total payload weight was 33 pounds (15 kg), compared to NASA’s MAVEN payload: 143 pounds (65 kg).
Because of the relatively low budget, the Mangalyaan was made to target 6 months in Mars’ orbit. Instead, it has made it a grand total of 8 years. During these eight years, data from the Mangalyaan was used to publish 27 studies, and more than 1000 images were produced. ISRO thinks the orbiter could have lasted even longer, if not for bad luck. Recently on Mars, there were back-to-back solar eclipses that prevented the orbiter from charging its battery, which was made to last only an hour and forty minutes without sunlight. The level of ingenuity and efficient engineering behind such a low-budgeted spacecraft is astounding.
ISRO MOM Mission Team (ISRO, https://www.isro.gov.in/MOM_NationalMeet_2022SEP.html)
The first space voyage of the fourth country to ever shoot for the stars, and make it on the first try, has finally come to a close. India and ISRO have proven to the world that space adventure and scientific advancements aren’t limited to countries of wealth or power, instead, discovery is for anyone with a will. Go Mangalyaan!