How India reached Mars on a budget: The Mangalyaan story
Ready to go to Mars! Today, I will be sharing with you the story of an Indian space program that goes right back to 1960s, under the vision of great physicist Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. His vision was of using space technology to solve the problems of man and society. But then, it was not an easy task for him to convince the government of the day about the relevance of a space program for a developing nation.
00:41Eventually with all his possible efforts, he succeeded in obtaining funds for the space program and that was when the Indian space journey began. This was how those initial days looked like. A very humble beginning, with extremely limited resources. In 1975, India's first satellite- Aryabhatta was launched. Later on, we contined our efforts to build much more advanced rockets and satellites culminating into our first moon mission, Chandrayaan 1 which detected the evidence of water on lunar surface.
01:25After this big achievement, our next step had to be our neighbouring planet- Mars. But, why Mars? There are many unanswered questions about Mars. "Is there any light on Mars?" "Is there water on Mars?" "Can it tell us something about Earth's past or Earth's future?"
01:48It is believed that billions of years ago when our planet was just a ball of molten iron. Mars seems to have had abundant water and sufficiently thick atmosphere capable of sustaining life. But, then after a billion years, when our planet grew to become nourishing for life this planet, lost all its favourable conditions.
02:17So data about Mars, should help us to understand how that has happened. It will provide some answers to our theories. The next reason, to improve the quality of life on Earth itself. For example, a computer algorithm which was developed for one of the space programs when applied to X-ray images did a better job of detecting early stages of breast cancer than the conventional methods.
02:50So, this cross-pollination of fields like, innovating in one and getting revolutionary changes in another, happens all the time. And that, undoubtedly, improves the quality of life. The main reason- to inspire the next generation of space explorers who can contribute to the growth of a developing nation. And, that is why, ISRO's next step towards this higher goal was the "Mission to Mars". The most challenging part of Mars Orbiter Mission was completing this project in just 18 months of time. Without having any heritage in inter-planetary mission, where the to-and-fro signal time can be of the order of 40 minutes.
03:39It is like if you want to switch on a bulb, using a remote control it will take 20 minutes for the signal to reach the bulb, switch it on and then, 20 more minutes to confirm whether the bulb has turned on or not. Such a huge time delay. What did it mean? It meant that we had to build an extensive amount on onboard autonomy. We had to build systems capable of doing self-diagnostics, self-recovery, as well as, executing all the loaded instructions, with highest precision. Because any minutest error in executing those instructions would jeopardize the whole mission. And that is what has happened to many earlier missions of NASA, Russia, Japan, or China.
04:34Of 51 missions so far, only 21 succeeded. Success rate? Less than 50%. And remember, no one could do it at the first attempt. So we started working on it while the hardware that was adapted were taken from previously successful missions the onboard software, the onboard autonomy software was almost a new venture for us. After rigorous process of brainstorming sessions with all engineers, a network of autonomy was drafted.. with various levels for detection and recovery. Thousands of lines of codes were written, on onboard computers followed by extensive review and testing. And all this in mere 10 months of time. Something that seemed to be very much impossible at the beginning could be achieved in record time. Almost all parts of MOM used, were made in India.
05:40This picture shows the propulsion system with a liquid engine was adapted from one of our other geosynchronous communication satellites. But those engines were perfected in performance in the deep space by extensive amount of testing. The next, very important part of the satellite was the communication system. The communication systems have the antennas with very high sensitivity. They work as the ears of the space-craft. And these antennas have to be tuned to respond, at a distance of 200 to 400 million kilometers. So, you can imagine that it is something like hearing a person's whisper across a soccer field. That is the sensitivity of these antennas.
06:38The next major obstacle, or major challenge, for MOM was to design a precise path, a main trajectory which would take the space-craft from earth to Mars. But, with minimum fail. So, what happened another major obstacle that we had to overcome at that time was the launch window, the time of launch. Actually, there is a particular geometry formed between Earth and Mars which provides an opportunity to launch with minimum fail. But that happens only once in 26 months. So, you can imagine, we had to realise everything within that short span of time.
07:27To further minimise the fail requirement, we found another way it was like the PSLV rocket, when it takes off it should inject the space-craft, not over India, but over Pacific, near Australia. But then, we did not have any ground stations or antennas to track the vehicle over the sea. We decided, to deploy two ships, which would take two months of time to reach there. But then, what happened! The ships could not reach on their expected dates. Due to the bad weather conditions, there was a huge storm over the sea, the ships got delayed by 10 days. We were racing against time. Before the time was up, on 5th November 2013, our multi-PSLV successfully took off and put the spacecraft in its first parking orbit.
08:27The most unique part of MOM was that you can see its trajectory, having multiple slingshots and with each sling, with each burn, the distance from Earth was increasing. 25 days later, came the final maneuver when the spacecraft had to leave Earth's gravity and start moving towards Mars. This is called 'cruising'. And the direction of cruise is very important. It needs an exact, an accurate performance of 99.9% Actually, many missions failed at this phase. ISRO made history on 30th November 2013 itself when MOM successfully left for cruise in its first attempt. To show how challenging it is, to achieve the correct cruise direction it is as if you go outside right now, and hit a golf ball from here towards a hole located at Los Angeles. And, the ball has to go straight into the hole. And wait, to make it more challenging, the hole is moving. So, after travelling 650 million kilometers in the cruise the spacecraft made its closest approach to Mars. It was just 500 kilometers away.
09:56But then, reaching near Mars does not mean that we have achieved the mission. It should start rotating around Mars. It means that we have to give a thrust or a push to the spacecraft into the gravity well of Mars. This is called Mars orbit insertion. It is the most critical operation, a one time operation if you miss it, you lose it. There is no second chance. And being the deputy operations director, I, with my team was responsible to ensure that this operation takes place as per the set configuration, without the minutest anomaly. The D-day arrived! 24th of September 2014 at 7 am IST, early in the morning, we got the first signal from the spacecraft indicating the correct start of the auto-sequence by the onboard computers. 21 minutes later, the main engine started firing. And that was the time, when half of the success was ensured.
11:024 minutes later, the signal stopped. What happened? Actually, the spacecraft went behind Mars, from where no signal could reach Earth. It was as if time had stopped, in the control center. All eyes were glued to the computer screen waiting for the data to come back. For those 26 minutes, there was complete and utter silence in the control center. But then, at 8 am IST, history was made. The hall was erupted with jubilant cheers and loud claps. I could not believe that I had become a part of such a historic moment. MOM successfully entered the martian orbit with many first into its account. The first Mars mission in the world, to succeed in its first attempt.
12:01The most economical inter-planetary project in the world. The project got realised in the shortest time of 18 months. The first Indian satellite having full-scale, onboard autonomy. And, above all this was the youngest team in ISRO that worked for this mission. Today, MOM is sending huge amount of data it has opened up a new regime for space physicists, to analyse the data and reveal some of the mysteries of Mars. I feel, the major contribution of MOM can be seen in this letter by a young boy to the chairman of ISRO, where he expresses, how proud he feels for India and he desires to be a part of ISRO.
12:57While this mission has stirred inspiration into the veins of every Indian student, it has created an awe and fervor towards science and technology in the whole country. The major contribution, of the bigger mission of MOM can be seen in empowering 1.25 billion people and making them realise the inherent strength and the power of Indians to reach a far planet and showing to the world, we are second to none! Thank You!
How India reached Mars on a budget: The Mangalyaan story
The Mangalyaan mission is arguably the greatest achievement in the history of the Indian space program. Ritu Karidhal, deputy director of the mission, shares the story of how we reached Mars. Mars Orbiter Mission website
The Voyager missions, launched in 1977, have crossed the solar system and are now the farthest man-made objects in deep space. They continue to transmit data, and in 1992, Voyager 1 took a now famous photo of the Earth as a ‘Pale Blue Dot’ from 6 billion kilometers away.
Louis Friedman, one of the world’s most influential voices in space research, outlines what he thinks is the future for space exploration in this interview.
This short film highlights the crucial role that 3 women played in the success of the Mangalyaan mission.
Deputy Director - Mars Orbiter Mission
A prominent scientist at ISRO, Ritu was the Deputy Director of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission.
Share This Idea:
Releasing Next Week
How a Pune duo are using a confluence of music, film making and recitation to revive Hindi poetry