How to Visit Mars on a Budget


Where others failed with multiple attempts, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) succeeded in it’s first attempt to reach the Red Planet. Even more impressive is how they did it for only $74m US (4.5bn rupees).

To put that into perspective, $74 million is less than the cost of the Hollywood movie “Gravity” and dramatically less than NASA’s own MAVEN Mars orbiter, which costs $672 million.

A key to their cost-savings was using home-grown components and technologies over expensive foreign imports,
and by being frugal and thrifty at every point of the journey.

The MOM was launched using the famous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which has so far been the most successful launch vehicle ever in Indian aeronautical history, and among the most successful in the world. Only its maiden mission was a failure.

MOM was put into Low Earth Orbit by a mission PSLV titled PSLV C25.

Image Credit: ISRO

PSLV C25 lifting off from First Launch Pad of the only Indian spaceport in Sriharikota

PSLV C25 lifting off from First Launch Pad of the only Indian spaceport in Sriharikota. Image Credit: ISRO

The Mars Orbiter Mission is equipped with a main engine known as the Liquid Apogee Motor, and six smaller thrusters. The smaller thrusters were simultaneously fired six times through the month of November to slowly raise the apogee of the Low Earth Orbit of the MOM.

A firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor on November 30, 2014 pushed the spacecraft hurtling towards Mars.

MOM has used an orbit known as the Hohmann Transfer Orbit to get to Mars fast, and at the same time, by using the minimum fuel.

Hohmann Transfer Orbit

This is the most efficient type of orbit to get to Mars from Earth. The spacecraft is first put into Low Earth Orbit by a launch vehicle, which is indicated in the infographic by the green line.

The thrusters are then fired to give a boost to the spacecraft, and therefore raise the apogee of the orbit, thus putting the spacecraft into a new, elliptical orbit, indicated in the infographic by the yellow line.

Another firing of the thrusters further raises the apogee of the orbit, and puts the spacecraft into a trajectory that would send it hurtling straight towards Mars.

Trajectory corrections besides these two main firings of the thrusters may be performed as and when necessary. Three such trajectory correction maneuvers were planned for MOM, out of which only two were ever deemed to be necessary and performed.



ISRO released information detailing the ground stations that would be used by ISRO for the MOM:

  • ISRO’s own Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) ground station near Bangalore
  • Three other ground stations of the NASA Deep Space Network (NDSN) located in Madrid, Goldstone, and Canberra



ISRO later announced that since the third Trajectory Correction Maneuver had not taken place as it was deemed unnecessary, there was enough fuel to carry out a test firing of the LAM, which had been inactive since December, when it pushed MOM hurtling towards Mars.

It was deemed necessary as there were initial apprehensions among technicians that something might go wrong with it due technical issues involved with its long period of inactivity.

Liquid Engine Test Firing

On September 22, ISRO conducted a test-firing of the Liquid Apogee Motor. To the relief of many Indians following the mission, the operation was then declared a resounding success.



ISRO later released another informative infographic detailing the precise steps that would be involved in getting MOM into Mars orbit.

MOM into Mars orbit.  Image Credit: ISRO

The infographic detailing the steps involved in inserting MOM into Mars orbit



On September 24, 08:02 IST ISRO Telemetry, Tracking & Command Network (ISTRAC) confirms that MOM has successfully been put into the intended Mars orbit, based on telemetry received from the spacecraft.

It’s a tremendous accomplishment for India, and considering the budget price, an inspiration to the world. Congratulations to ISRO and the people of India!

MOM congratulations

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Some content and information for this post was provided by Sagnik Sarkar and is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.