India Begins Quest To Find Methane On Mars

By Jay Menon
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

“This is our modest beginning for our interplanetary mission,” says Deviprasad Karnik, spokesman for the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).

Though limited in scope, MOM will help India develop the technologies required for design, planning, management and operations of interplanetary travel.

With NASA and other foreign space agencies increasingly looking to outsource space missions and rein in profligacy, India's emphasis on low costs positions it to capture commercial success in the $304 billion global space market, analysts say.

Susmita Mohanty, founder and CEO of Earth2Orbit, India's first private space startup, says Indian companies can leverage ISRO's portfolio of space products and services, exploit the satellite service market and become competitive in the global marketplace. ISRO is already looking to secure satellite launch contracts from several countries, including Germany, Canada, France and Indonesia.

Mayank Vahia, scientist at Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, says the Mars mission “is part of India's space exploration program that will improve its scientific credentials and know-how in launching interplanetary probes.”

The Mars mission could lead to significant international collaborations and debunk the view that India is competing with China, analysts note.

Despite the optimism about India's Mars mission, reaching the red planet would be a feat in itself. No nation has succeeded a journey to Mars in its first attempt, and more than half the world's attempts to reach Mars have come to naught, including missions by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011. The next attempt to find and map methane will be made with the European ExoMars mission scheduled for 2016.

The high historical failure rate argues for continued development, points out Amitabha Ghosh, the head of science operations for the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission. “A long and thorough developmental schedule would have ensured the necessary engineering rigor to maximize the chance of a successful mission,” he says.

It is possible that Mangalyaan has been in development for much longer than is officially acknowledged. But if the development time actually was the 15 months announced, serious technology risks and mission failure could result, Ghosh warns.

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