Alternate paths to Mars: NASA’s MAVEN compared to India’s MOM

Update! 18th November 2013. The launch of MAVEN – in about 1 hour from now – can be seen live on NASA TV.

The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission is primarily a test of technology and capability and self-confidence and self-belief.

With a very limited budget.

The scientific investigations of the planet and the Martian atmosphere are only a secondary or even a tertiary objective. For the Indian mission everything is virtually for the first time. For NASA and the US, the MAVEN mission which is due to launch on Monday 18th November is the 15th Mission to Mars. The first mission (Mariner 3) failed and the second mission, Mariner 4, launched in November 1964 was the first to reach Mars. In the 49 years since there have been a few failures (Mariner 8 in 1971, Mars Observer 1992, Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998 and the Mars Polar lander/Deep Space2 in 1999) and some spectacular successes for NASA with the Mars Global Surveyor in 1996 , the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2007 and the Mars Rover in 2011.

Many Mars missions have failed. Between 1960 and 1971 the Russians (USSR) failed in 11 attempts to send a spacecraft to the vicinity of Mars. The 12th attempt with M-71 in 1971 succeeded in orbiting Mars. Of eight further attempts by Russia, 4 failed to reach Mars. The Japanese Nozomi failed while cruising. Two European missions led to one orbiter (but a failed landing) and one flyby.

On the surface they may both seem to be similar in that both are attempting to get a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. But the missions are, in reality, quite different. MOM is essentially a first-time test of technology and capability whereas MAVEN is primarily a scientific mission utilising the deployment of now well proven US technology. Technology development on the one hand and a scientific investigation on the other.

1. NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) is a space probe designed to study the Martian atmosphere while orbiting MarsIndia’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM – “Mangalyaan”) is a space probe designed to explore Mars’ surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere using indigenous scientific instruments while orbiting Mars.

2. MAVEN is expected to have a budget of about $672 million. MOM has a budget of about $70 million.

3. The Atlas 5 rocket to be used to launch MAVEN has the capability to lift about 7,000 kg directly into a Geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). This allows MAVEN (2500 kg) to be injected directly into a Trans-Mars trajectory from launch.

The PSLV to be used for MOM can lift about 1300 kg into a GTO. With the MOM having a mass of 1337 kg, it becomes necessary for a  launch first into earth orbit and then a multi-step transition  through ever increasing earth orbits and finally into a Trans-Mars trajectory.

4. MAVEN is due to launch on an Atlas 5 rocket at 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT) on Monday (Nov. 18) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Within one hour of launch MAVEN will be in a Hohmann Transfer Orbit with periapsis at Earth’s orbit and apoapsis at the distance of the orbit of Mars. MAVEN should reach Mars orbit on 22nd September 2014.

MAVEN trajectory - NASA-LASP-JPL

MAVEN trajectory – NASA-LASP-JPL

Because of the relatively low payload capability of the PSLV for an interplanetary mission MOM will spend more than four weeks in earth orbit and has to be equipped with radiation shielding to endure the numerous passages through earth’s radiation Belts. MOM has fired its Liquid Motor six times – always when passing perigee to gradually increase the apogee of the orbit to work its way up to departing Earth orbit in a fuel-efficient manner. The sixth (including one correction) firing yesterday placed the spacecraft in a 600 by approx 193,000 kilometer orbit around Earth and sets up the proper perigee passage for the final engine burn that puts the vehicle onto its Trans-Martian Trajectory using s standard Hohmann Transfer Orbit on 30th November/ 1st December. MOM should reach Mars orbit on 24th September 2014 (2 days after MAVEN).

mangalyaan trajectory

mangalyaan trajectory

5. MAVEN’s body has a cubical shape of about 2.3 m x 2.3 m x 2 m high, spans a total of 11.4 m with its solar panels deployed and has a lift-off mass of  2,454 kg (including fuel) and has a dry payload of 903 kg.

Mangalyaan’s body is a cuboid measuring about 1.5 m per side, a span of 4.2 m with solar panels deployed and an initial mass of 1337 kg of which 852 kg is fuel.



6. MAVEN is carrying 8 main, highly sophisticated instruments. Neutral Gas and Ion Mass SpectrometerImaging Ultraviolet SpectrographMagnetometerSolar Wind Electron AnalyzerSupraThermal And Thermal Ion CompositionLangmuir Probe and Waves antennaSolar Energetic ParticlesSolar Wind Ion Analyzer

Mangalyaan is carrying a camera, two spectrometers, a radiometer and a photometer. Together, they have a weight of about 15 kg.

7. MAVEN is targeting a science orbit of 150 by 6,200 Kilometers at an inclination of 75 degrees. It will perform measurements from a highly elliptical orbit around Mars over a period of one Earth year, with five “deep dips” at 150 km minimum altitude to sample the upper atmosphere.

Mangalyaan will be much further out and targets an operational orbit of 365 by 80,000 Kilometers with an inclination of 150 degrees and a duration of 76.72 hours from where it will perform its science mission. The MOM mission in Mars orbit is open-ended and is expected to last about 160 days.

8. MAVEN’s science phase features regular communication sessions. The spacecraft points its High Gain Antenna at Earth for high data rate communications twice per week with the exact timing depending on Deep Space Network visibility. Those comm sessions take place on Tuesday and Friday and have a duration of eight hours during which at least five hours of Earth pointing are required to downlink all science data and housekeeping telemetry. 

Mangalyaan is equipped with a 2.2-meter diameter High Gain Antenna which is a parabolic X-Band reflector antenna that is used for data downlink and command uplink. Science data and spacecraft telemetry is stored in two 16Gb Solid State Recorders aboard the vehicle for downlink during regular communications sessions. Low and Medium Gain Antennas are used for low-bandwidth communications such as command uplink and systems telemetry downlink.

As missions go, MAVEN represents a Mercedes “S” class to the Volkswagen that is MOM.

Mangalyaan - MOM (ISRO)

Mangalyaan – MOM (ISRO)



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10 Responses to “Alternate paths to Mars: NASA’s MAVEN compared to India’s MOM”

  1. akhilaakho22 Says:

    Reblogged this on Akhila's Discovery.

  2. Kamlesh Mallick Says:

    Very nice overview!

  3. Alexandra, JPL Says:

    Great post. Thanks for writing all this up!

  4. Jackinson Thomas Says:

    “As missions go, MAVEN represents a Mercedes ‘S’ class to the Volkswagen that is MOM.”
    What a stupid comparison. The author should have a minimum understanding of Mission’s objectives. Just copying and paste doesn’t give you the liberty to be sarcastic.

    • ktwop Says:

      A comparison with a Tata Nano would have been sarcasm. Not a comparison with a VW.

      • Jackinson Thomas Says:

        deleted – If you have a reasoned point to make you are welcome.
        But if you only wish to insult, it would be better done anywhere else but at my own blog! – ktwop

  5. Hari Prasad R Says:

    Excellent article.

  6. Muthiah Ramanathan Says:

    Highly informative! One is a technology demonstrator and the other is for deeper understanding!

  7. SR Kaulgi Says:

    Well written article. Gives good comparison of the missions. A job can be done in many ways. It is not the means but end results that count.Best wishes to both missions.

  8. Political statues in India cost more than the Mars Orbiter Mission | The k2p blog Says:

    […] the wrong priority for a developing country like India. I think such criticism misses the point. “The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission is primarily a test of technology and capability and self-con… The cost pales in comparison with the spend on religious festivities and what other much less […]

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