India fact of the day

$74 million: That’s the amount India spent on its Mars program. Modi described it best when he said the Sandra Bullock-starrer Gravity cost more to make than India’s Mars mission. NASA’s Maven mission, admittedly more complex, cost $671 million in comparison. European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express Orbiter mission cost $386 million. Japan’s failed mars mission cost $189 million.

Rs 7 per kilometre: That is how much the journey to mars cost India. That is cheaper than an auto ride in Delhi, which will cost you, if you are lucky, Rs8 per km.

From Saptarishi Dutta, there is more here.


"admittedly more complex" - that is the keyword here. Plus, certainly you save a lot of time and funds when you can build on 30+ years of planetary exploration. Whether this mission was particularly cheap or not, I don't know, but I certainly know that building a computer with the power of ENIAC would be much much cheaper than building a cutting-edge supercomputer.

"you save a lot of time and funds when you can build on 30+ years of planetary exploration."

NASA couldn't do that?

There's a lot of "we're so sophisticated" here and not enough "maybe we should be doing better." Also, "maybe we should update our prior that this whole space thing is really really hard."

Besides that, the whole point of the Indian Mars mission is a clear demonstration of national technical means. It's intended to show people that if and when Indian ballistic missiles are called on, they'll work like they're supposed to. The science payload is not a really important part of that demonstration, so there are secondary reasons to limit the mission scope.

Which is what the US, USSR, and PRC space race was all about. China just learned that India can launch ICBMs.

But there is more here. India is also l
showing the world that it has home grown talent to perform first world tasks at a fraction of the cost. This was a commercial demonstration.

I applaud their ingenuity, but of course one has to look at precisely what capabilities this demonstrate.

I wouldnt be surprised if, in a few years, an exceptional teenager could put a payload into orbit.

This is why I think the people down-thread lamenting unrelated foregone spending on wave monitors or something are way off base. It's urgent things versus important things.

India just lowered the probability of a big, big war, and did their economy some good. That's worth a lot more than $74m. And it's completely unreasonable to compare it to the one thing India might conceivably have spent the money on in the past 25 years that would have done any good. Imagine how much better they'd have done if they'd taken the $74m and bought all the winning PowerBall tickets over that period!

It isn't that hard to put a payload in orbit. The challenge isn't even building the sat, it is finding a ride.

If it was *just* based on NASA's shoulders, NASA could do missions that cheap.

NASA is inefficient in a number of ways, but India pays its engineers a fraction of American engineers. The primary cost of space travel has never been the raw material of the ship or its fuel: it's the highly skilled labor needed. (Musk is seeking to change that.)

And four times as large, in addition to the complexity.

(Large as in mass, which is what matters most for space stuff; lift is what's expensive!)

It's a decent accomplishment, for sure - but we shouldn't believe that they're equivalent projects and that India just Knows How To Get To Mars Cheaper.

Yeah, this is the big one. Send a tiny orbiter that does significantly less complex stuff (less fancy equipment) into space, and you need a much smaller rocket, less fuel, etc.
Add to that, India used NASA to provide all the deep space communications and telemetry (or rather, NASA graciously provided it for free). So it was not only piggybacking on 50 years of space exploration, it was piggybacking on existing US assets and personnel.
But yeah, as others have said: still a good accomplishment, a good job by India, and anything that helps lower costs to get into space - bully. But it remains to be seen if there are any lessons for the future or scalable techniques that can be applied to future, cutting edge missions.

Ergo, NASA’s Maven mission comes to ~$1.8 per mile. Cheaper than a cab ride in NYC per mile (I think).

Once you get to escape velocity, it's downhill to Mars. They save on gas.

Not to run your fun, but the sun is the "low ground" in the solar system. While going to Mars, you are climbing uphill, trading your kinetic energy for potential energy. It's coasting essentially all the way there, though.

Dammit Dan, let me get my laugh.

I had a cabbie get to escape velocity, and it didn't save me sh*t.

Per kilometer is pretty silly. Trans-lunar injections and trans-mars injections take just about the same delta-v, except the latter covers (very roughly) 150x more distance.

India Fact of the Day:
$0. That's how much India has committed to an early warning tsunami system, which would have saved thousands of lives a decade ago. Instead, they spent many times that -hundreds of millions -on spurious vanity projects such as sending a satellite to circle the moon, or sending a probe to Mars, neither of which advanced scientific knowledge at all.

Well they are still working on the time machine.

Much of the spending for their moon probe was done at the same time they could have been preparing for the tsunami. Also, why are they sending a meaningless probe to Mars, which again, has accomplished exactly nothing new, when they could be preparing for the next natural disaster?
This is a classic case of misallocation of resources. If India had an efficient rail network and a reliable highway system, if they could provide education for their masses, if they had devoted enough to bolstering their water resources and improving their power infrastructure and still had money left-over, sure, send a bowling ball to Mars (their probe has about the same functionality). Instead, they engage in this vanity project which gets 99.999999% of their population nothing at all.

I mostly agree.

Can you say "public choice"?

It is my understanding that the massive Indian railway system turns a profit every year, unlike most national railways. Surely that counts for something.

They made a four billion dollar loss last year ( I think).

In previous years they have mostly used freight to compensate passenger rail losses.

Maybe the Indians can do more than one thing at the same time. Alternatively, why should Indian elites suddenly start caring about a bunch of dumb peons living in squalor? A space program is probably more useful than building a titanic monument to your dead wife. Hell, maybe a little bit of national pride over a moon probe goes further than keeping the lights on 24 hours a day in some backwater when it comes to well-being, or at least continuing passivity.

Speaking of education, the US space/rocketry program led to a pretty serious push to improve math education back in the day. Maybe the same could happen in India.

The same reason the sophisiticated Americans seems to care about the highly gauche and embarrassingly graspy Indian elite: at some point we are all probaly going to have to destroy a whole bunch of Chinese tanks together. If it helps the Indian elite come to terms with its "peons" they should probally know that the American elites are every bit as disdainful and wary of the Indian elite as they are of their own people apparently. Basically Indians matter because they rule over a whole bunch of peons. Otherwise they'd get the respect that Burmese elites get. In the scheme of things Indian elites aren't even as usefully as Saudi elites.

On one hand, lots of Indians have no toilets.

On the other hand, there is *always* something else that could be done on Earth in place of any space mission.

On the other other hand, geeze, toilets, man.

On the other other other hand, this is what you would expect from developing economies with large populations: lots of people still waiting to get raised out of poverty while an upper crust of technological workers are coming into place. These workers don't want to build toilets and wire up alarm systems. India needs to do something to keep them in country. Also, launching a rocket requires a critical mass of other industries, like manufacturing and metallurgy.

Keeping the brightest engineers and scientists in the country by giving them interesting work may be more important for future of India than "education for the masses" (BTW: whenever a phrase like this comes up, think of a vanity bureaucratic project that creates lifelong cushy jobs for various administrators and a lot of red tape).

At least they accomplished something visible and measurable.

On the contrary, the US DoE throws untold billions of USD into black hole with no measurable results. Those money could be used better, you knwo.

Diminishing marginal utility of population.

What I want to know is how much India spends on those invisible outhouses you see people using on the streets of Bombay. It's really high tech cloaking technology. As invisible as the emperor's new wardrobe frankly. That project has to cost a bundle.

Maybe Indians could dig their own outhouses without waiting for their government to do it for them.

Property rights!

Not a very useful comparison. India's mission was a "technology demonstrator", while the NASA mission was an actual scientific mission. Maven carries more than 4 times the payload. It's much bigger, much more power, going much lower in the Mars atmosphere etc etc.

Costs are exponential in these cases.

So apples to oranges.

Mariner 4 was a similar program to India's Mars orbiter, and still cost over $600 million in 2014 dollars.

That was 50 years ago. Now we're not comparing apples to oranges anymore, but peanuts to beef.

So a nation of a billion people, this future super power can accomplish things that would put 1960s America to shame. That's really impressive. Kind of surprising that the non-Aligned Bloc didn't win the Cold War.

See a lot of deflection in the comments. Yes, the Indian Mars satellite is technologically interesting, circa 1965. That, however, doesn't excuse the fact that NASA is pretty much the worse run federal government agency, and that takes a special kind of ineptitude. At this point about 65% of its mandate is to exist as a government jobs program for red states (Florida, Alabama, Texas), 25% to provide direct subsidies to Boeing, and 10% for actual science.

I'm not defending NASA I'm scoffing at Indian boosterism.

You mean a government jobs program for left wing climate scientists?

Doesn't the Indian Mars satellite highlight NASA's problems, not deflect them? This sort of thing is supposed to be Very Hard. We need Billions and Billions of Dollars to do it.

In a related point, Boeing and SpaceX recently both got crew transport contracts for ISS. Boeing's contract was for twice the amount of SpaceX's. For the exact same task. Just 'cause.

That's complete nonsense Shaun. NASA is doing massive amounts of research, it's running dozens of missions right now.

It operates several earth science satellites, including the six satellite constellation that makes up the A-Train. It's answering questions about global warming and Earth science, while also providing images that are used by everyone from state-level permitting offices to forest fire fighters.

It has space telescopes, two martian rovers, three satellites at Mars, one at Mercury, one at Saturn, one at an asteroid, one at the Moon, and others on their way to Pluto and Jupiter. These missions are rewriting astronomy and physics books every day. In fact whatever astronomy book you had in college is likely obsolete (and wrong) thanks to NASA research.

NASA spending makes airplanes safer and results in thousands of useful spinoff technologies. It saves lives. It makes money.

As for being poorly run, I'd put NASA's success rate against anyone else's. Landing on Mars is much harder than building a website to buy health insurance, and NASA has done it successfully several times.

And a civilization that is 5000 years old.

It would seem that human development has a first mover disadvantage. It's easier to kill and steal than to create and keep.

Hey, it's impressive to just stay alive at 5000 years. Look at all those others who started out with us.

Indian civilisation isn't nearly that old. Maybe if you throw in Harappa it gets into the high 4000's, but nobody really knows how much Harappan culture influenced later civilisation.

not sure why, but NASA free support to India receive no press at all.
"India's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is scheduled for launch on the afternoon of October 28, 2013. The launch window remains open till November 19, 2013. The American NASA/JPL is providing communications and navigation support to this mission with their Deep Space Network facilities. According to Scientific Secretary, ISRO, NASA/JPL authorities have reaffirmed support for the Mars Orbiter Mission as planned and stated that the current US government partial shutdown will not affect the schedule of Mars Orbiter Mission. Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft is scheduled for launch on the afternoon of October 28, 2013. The launch window remains open till November 19, 2013. The American NASA/JPL is providing communications and navigation support to this mission with their Deep Space Network facilities. According to Scientific Secretary, ISRO, NASA/JPL authorities have reaffirmed support for the Mars Orbiter Mission as planned and stated that the current US government partial shutdown will not affect the schedule of Mars Orbiter Mission."

Incentive structure:
1. America wants India as an ally as part of a larger plan to contain China
2. India's leaders want to look competent in front of the Indian people

How to accomplish #1
America gives free tech to India without talking about it

How to accomplish #2
India gets to use the free tech and look really competent

If either side acknowledged the arrangement, it would diminish its benefits.

Agree, but the US also receives free telemetry data too.

Does it even need it?

@Rahul, lol yeah, that is the most critical and expensive part of any space flight.

Before people dump on India, the Mariner 4 probe, which seems to have had about the same capabilities as the Indian probe, cost $83.2 million in 1964. That's aboutt $620 million in 2014 dollars. Which actually kind of impressed me, since the it means that NASA has managed to deliver far better performance (Mariner didn't land) for the same real cost. However, it also means that India's Mars orbiter truly is a feat given its budget, and suggests that the Indian program can keep improving performance without having to be as well funded as NASA.

Space travel was harder in 1964. Technology was, you know, 50 years less advanced. It cost more to get similar results.

There's still no way that NASA would be able to launch anything to Mars for $74 million today, given that the Indian PSLV launch vehicle used apparently costs $14 million per launch while the closest American equivalent that I could find, the Delta II (used to launch the similar Mars Odyssey orbiter), costs $51 million per launch. Now, NASA can definitely build better probes and the Indians can't touch the throw weight of NASA's big rockets, but it's still impressive.

Getting the Mariner to Mars for $620 million was good in 1968. Getting the Curiosity to live on Mars for years for $670 million is good in 2014. Getting an orbiter to Mars for $74 million is good in 2014. I don't understand why so many people are rushing to downplay this.

Comparing these things on the bases that they are "a rocket" and "a spacecraft" is like comparing a Lamborghini with a Beetle, because they are both "cars" and have 4 wheels.

The cost curves for these technologies are exponential, especially once you consider the difference in quality.

Before people dump on India. Let's take time to acknowledge all the Indians that dumped on India this morning. Shoulders of giants people.

Not to dump on anyone, but should technology like this be compared in constant dollars? Ex: Should we even ask what an iphone would cost in 1964?

The idea of measuring the "cost per kilometer traveled" of space travel is so inane as to be offensive.

Not as inane as finding a way to put India's population in the cost denominator.

This is like rating caviar samples by nutritional value per gram consumed.

I wonder how many parsecs it would take the Indians to do the Kessel run.

Give Indians some reason to rejoice.

Most of the public infrastructure there is a dump - visit any Railway station, for example, you don't even have to use the facilities on the trains to get the idea - so they need a lot more of this kind of vanity project to not feel infinitely inferior all the time.

There are no 'facilities'* on trains [at least, ex-1st class]. This is why rail in India Railways must be replaced every 5 yr (vs every 20 yrs in other countries)

* people urinate in the vestibules between carriages

This is quite an accomplishment for such a country. It shows, though, where the government's priorities lie. The question is whether the public good meets the cost-benefit test.

The US launched "smaller, faster, cheaper" probes in the 1990's and the result was a series of failures and catastrophes. Has this probe actually reached Mars successfully?

If only the first link in the excerpt could have provided you that information, perhaps via a headline that says, "India Satellite Mangalyaan Reaches Mars Orbit on First Try."

Communist China did the same thing back in the days, launching that cool looking satellite with the streaking fins that circled the world and played nothing but the Chinese national anthem.

When does the Philippines launch their first space vehicle?

And is it "the Philippines is" or "the Philippines are".


I think the Philipine government might be looking for you:

Dozens of activists burned a mock U.S. flag as they protested at the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Tuesday, demanding that Washington hand over to the Philippines a U.S. Marine suspected in the killing of a transgender Filipino that the demonstrators labeled a hate crime.

Jeffrey Laude, 26, was found dead, apparently strangled and drowned, beside a toilet bowl in a motel room in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, shortly after he checked in late Saturday, allegedly with a Marine.

More interesting than what India spent is that they succeeded in reaching orbit on their first mission. From the WSJ link: "India now joins a small club of nations — the U.S., Russia and those in the European Space Agency – to have mastered interplanetary travel, giving it bragging rights over Asian rivals China and Japan whose attempts to get to Mars failed."

Getting to Mars takes a high level of competence. The many failures of others' missions show that there are many, many things that all have to be done right to get there.

Its really unfair, but when I saw the post the first thing I thought of was the Mexican space program as shown in South Park:

Too bad India is evil. (They have actual prison terms for suicide attempts - so much for self-ownership and basic human rights)

If there is a race to colonize the stars, I'd like the good guys to win. But who are the good guys?

I'd say look who tortures animals, children, old people, or the mentally ill. They are not the good guys. (duh)

Comments for this post are closed