India’s Faster, Cheaper Mars Mission

Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”

The engineers had to compress their efforts into 18 months (other countries’ space vehicles have taken six years or more to build). “Since the time was so short, for the first time in the history of such a project, we scheduled tasks by the hour — not days, not weeks.”

The modest budget did not allow for multiple iterations. So, instead of building many models (a qualification model, a flight model and a flight spare), as is the norm for American and European agencies, scientists built the final flight model right from the start. Expensive ground tests were also limited. “India’s ‘late beginner’ advantage was that it could learn from earlier mission failures.”

Huge.

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