Quantcast
Connect with us

Shoestring theory: India’s pioneering budget space probe is halfway to Mars

Published

on

If the £46m ‘Mangalyaan’ orbiter mission succeeds in reaching the red planet, it will be a triumph of ingenuity over big spending

On the pitted rural roads running through millions of India’s small towns and villages, the jugaad vehicle is a source of peculiar pride.

Often it’s a hand-cranked diesel engine crudely bolted on to a flatbed wagon and is used to carry people, steel rods, livestock or sacks of food in places where no public transport exists. It is loud, polluting and not officially roadworthy.

Yet it stands for a quality valued by most Indians: an ability to find a cheap solution to complex problems in a country where infrastructure is poor and technology is still largely unreliable. Jugaad represents a triumph of Indian ingenuity against incredible odds.

India’s Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, is perhaps the country’s most audacious and successful example of jugaad so far. A boxy probe built by scientists in just 15 months for the paltry sum of £46m ($75m) — less than the cost of the average Hollywood blockbuster film — Mangalyaan has completed more than half of its perilous journey to the red planet.

It is only a few days behind NASA’s Maven probe, which is propelled by powerful Atlas V and Centaur rockets.

ADVERTISEMENT

If Mangalyaan enters Martian orbit in September to survey the topography and sniff out evidence of methane, a key sign of life, India will enter the history books as a pioneering nation. It will be Asia’s first country to carry out a successful Mars mission. Japan, China and 21 other countries have failed.

At the Delhi offices of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), a crumbling government building characterised by the usual profusion of with sprouting electrical wires and urine-soaked stairwells, the head of India’s space programme explained that Mangalyaan’s success on a shoestring budget was down to factors including reusing spacecraft modules, carrying out fewer but more efficient ground tests, and opting for the longer, cheaper route to Mars in the absence of powerful rocket technology.

“We used the launch vehicle that was available to us to the best of its capability, tailoring the launch time and angle to achieve the correct trajectory,” said Koppillil Radhakrishnan, the ISRO chairman. “While Mangalyaan was in Earth orbit, we tested its performance and the instruments on board, so this was another advantage.”

Access to India’s space programme is severely restricted, but videos posted by ISRO show teams of scientists wearing plastic shower caps assembling the probe and its components at different stages. Unlike at NASA, India’s space programme does not adhere to strict design and review audits, saving money in the process.

ADVERTISEMENT

While European scientists stick to a 35-hour working week, 18 to 20-hour days are common for Indian scientists, according to Radhakrishnan. “Our wages are less, yes, but the rigour of the design and our reliability are second to none,” said Radhakrishnan.

Bruce Jakosky, principal scientist on Nasa’s Maven, said: “I’m very impressed by India’s mission so far. They sent [the Mangalyaan probe] into orbit around Earth and used a series of small rocket motor burns to get into higher altitude. They used the last burn to break free of Earth’s gravity to slingshot to Mars. I thought it was a very clever way to do it.”

In the recent Indian elections, voters have been mainly concerned about the flagging economy, inflation and corruption in government-run programmes. In the context of widespread poverty, how can India’s £600m space programme be justifiable?

Radhakrishnan said ISRO spent a tiny proportion of its budget – 7% – on pure science, such as the Mars mission. Most of its budget is used, he said, on projects that help India’s poorest citizens and fight corruption. “If you look at the Indian space programme, it is primarily for the people; 55% of our budget is used for satellites that help more than 100,000 fishermen find their daily catch. We help the government monitor crops, and ground and surface water. Our satellites have helped millions of people escape cyclones in time and we’ve even helped develop tele-medicine for people who live too far to visit a specialist,” he said.

ADVERTISEMENT

The agency is also using satellites to monitor whether promised government projects are delivered. “When you have a lot of developmental work on paper in rural areas, satellites can certainly be used to monitor progress in a very major way,” he said. “If you look at NASA, you won’t find them running the communications satellites for the entire country. People consider India a role model. [Our space programme] did not stay in an ivory tower.”

Despite the success of India’s Mars probe, most Indians still identify the red planet with its astrological power, not with whether it ever sustained life.

Radhakrishnan, a classical Kathakali dancer and Carnatic music vocalist, said he did not believe in astrology, but he was not averse to making sure the gods and good luck were on his side: Mangalyaan was launched on a Tuesday, mangalvaar or “Mars day” in Hindi.

And a day before theprobe’s launch, he sought the blessings of deities at a local temple. “Every person has their own values and beliefs,” he said. “I go to temple, to church and mosque. But what is finally important is the power of your mind to face challenges, because the line between success and failure in space is very thin.”

ADVERTISEMENT

© Guardian News and Media 2014

[Image: “The Surface Of Mars,” via Shutterstock]

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Facebook

Trump jumped to Speaker Pelosi’s defense in marathon Fox News interview

Published

on

In a strange twist, President Donald Trump appeared to defend House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity Wednesday.

Hannity began by saying to Trump that he believes Pelosi has lost control of her own party, as officials like Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) continue to call for impeachment.

"I say Nancy Pelosi is the speaker in name only," Hannity told Trump, calling Ocasio-Cortez the real start.

But what Trump said was the unusual point.

"I think Nancy Pelosi probably has control of it, I hear different things, but I think she does," Trump said, appearing to defend the Speaker. "She knows what she's doing. We will see how it all comes out."

Continue Reading

CNN

Trump spokesperson goes down in flames up against progressive reporter: ‘All you do is lie!’

Published

on

President Donald Trump's spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany went down in flames up against Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks during a CNN panel Wednesday.

McEnany went on to try and spin the president as some sort of great leader for Black Americans. She said that the campaign is very "proud" of the president's record on issues involving people of color.

"He also just said he wouldn't change his position on the Central Park Five," cut in Cuomo.

McEnany tried to cut in, but Cuomo cut in. "Now, he said we'll leave it at that. Come on."

"Chris, you come — come on, you," McEnany shot back. "We've been talking about the Central Park Five and racism and all of these things going back to the 2016 election, problem -- American people didn't believe it."

Continue Reading
 

Facebook

‘It’s just insane’: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow breaks down the Trump administration’s latest Russia scandal

Published

on

On Wednesday, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow delved into the latest stunning revelations surrounding Maria Butina, the admitted Russian agent at the heart of a plot to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party — and the connections to a high-ranking State Department official in charge of arms negotiations with Russia.

"Josh Rogin at the Washington Post reports tonight that Maria Butina also turned up at the wedding of Mike Pence's national security adviser," said Maddow. "Mike Pence's national security adviser, Andrea Thompson, got married that summer of 2017, first summer of the Trump Administration. She's got that awesome new job. Getting married and Maria Butina was at the wedding. Why was she at the wedding? U.S. Person One, her boyfriend, Paul Erickson, was officiating the wedding. Oh. It also turns out that the man who Mike Pence's national security adviser, the man who Andrea Thompson was marrying at the wedding that day, he had recently given Paul Erickson $100,000."

Continue Reading
 
 

Copyright © 2019 Raw Story Media, Inc. PO Box 21050, Washington, D.C. 20009 | Masthead | Privacy Policy | For corrections or concerns, please email [email protected]

I need your help.

Investigating Trump's henchmen is a full time job, and I'm trying to bring in new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have more stories coming you'll love. Join me and help restore the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link

Investigating Trump is a full-time job, and I want to add new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have stories coming you'll love. Join me and go ad-free, while restoring the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link