User manual mangalyaan
India’s first Mars orbiter, also known as the Mars Orbiter Mission, defines ‘cheap and cheerful’ in space exploration
The spacecraft orbiting Mars that defines ‘cheap and cheerful’
On 5 November 2013 the ISRO launched its maiden interplanetary mission to Mars. This was an incredible feat not only for India, certifying its position as a serious presence in space, but for space travel, proving that a task like this can be completed on a relatively cheap budget.
At the tip of a PSLV-C25 rocket, carrying 12 tonnes of propellant, was India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, also referred to as Mangalyaan, which means ‘Mars-craft’ in Hindi. After completing the 667-million-kilometre (414-million-mile) journey through space over the course of just over ten months Mangalyaan was inserted into the orbit of Mars, and India rejoiced at its first interplanetary craft being successful. Although the spacecraft's primary objective was to explore and study the surface of the Red Planet, it also aimed to develop and test the technologies needed for a interplanetary mission and prove it could be done – hence the excitement upon its successful arrival. Its scientific payload was equipped with five instruments keen to send back vital data from millions of miles away.
Mangalyaan has received much praise due to its efficient design and cost-effective execution. The mission only had a total cost of £47 million ($74 million) which, considering that the blockbuster film The Martian had a budget of £82 million
($108 million), shows it can actually be cheaper to go to Mars than make a film about it! In fact, NASA’s MAVEN orbiter that arrived at Mars around the same time cost over 11-times as much. This incredible cost efficiency was achieved in part by keeping the spacecraft small and light, with the scientific payload weighing about 15 kilograms (33 pounds). A light payload means less money spent on fuel for takeoff and the journey itself. A lot of the cost saving was due to the hard work in India, as here labour costs are lower than their American counterparts and the country also prioritises homegrown components and technologies.
Since Mangalyaan arrived at Mars it has consistently been busy at work and has surpassed its planned six-month lifetime by an impressive margin. However, during this time the orbiter has encountered some ‘blackouts’ and ‘whiteouts’. A blackout occurs when Mars is behind the Sun from Earth’s position, making it impossible to interact with the orbiter for a time, whereas a whiteout occurs when Earth is between the Sun and Mars and there is too much radiation to communicate. Luckily Mangalyaan had the autonomy to successfully survive both of these scenarios.
The five instruments on board the Indian explorer have sent back some tremendous results. There are yet to be any groundbreaking discoveries, but the NASA orbiters and rovers that have made
these have a much more extensive range of instruments and are of a higher calibre – but also a much higher cost. Mangalyaan’s Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) has been measuring the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere. Unfortunately the levels of methane on Mars are actually beyond the sensitivity of the MSM, so no methane was spotted. However, it has constructed reflectance maps of Mars with superb detail.
Other instruments on board include the Mars Colour Camera (MCC) which has 16 different modes of exposure and has produced some magnificent images of Mars and its moons as a result. The Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA) has been carefully studying the uppermost region of the planet’s atmosphere, known as the exosphere, and it holds the answers as to why there is essentially no atmosphere and what happened
“The longevity and success of this mission has surprised many all over the world”
in Mars’ past to make this so. MENCA provided the first measurements of the low-latitude exosphere in its evening time as well as the discovering ‘hot’ Argon in the exosphere. The Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS), coupled with Mangalyaan’s elliptical orbit, has provided some clear infrared maps of Mars, measuring its thermal emission. Lastly, the Lyman-Alpha Photometer (LAP) is the first Indian space-borne absorption gas-cell photometer that measures the amount of hydrogen and deuterium in the atmosphere.
This spacecraft is still being carefully monitored from the Spacecraft Control Centre at the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Bangalore, the capital of the Indian state Karnataka, with support from the Indian
Deep Space Network (IDSN) antennae at Byalalu, Karnataka, India. The longevity and success of this mission has surprised many all over the world, and in terms of Indian space exploration this is a huge stepping stone for missions to come.
Beside its scientific responsibilities, Mangalyaan’s objective was to test and develop the technologies needed for an interplanetary mission
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, was present at the orbital insertion of Mangalyaan around Mars
Mars and its north pole were imaged at a distance of 55,000 kilometres (34,000 miles) away using the Mars Colour Camera (MCC)