Breaking down space travel price wall

Congratulations to the hard working men and women in MOM mission control, for achieving what is reportedly history's cheapest mission to Mars.

Earlier this week, a spacecraft delightfully called MOM – the Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan – successfully entered a stable orbit around Mars. MOM is India’s first mission to the red planet, which historically has been unkind to first-time visitors.

As we are building the world’s first commercial spaceline that will democratise access to space, what I found interesting about MOM is that it is quite likely the cheapest Mars mission ever.

The price has been widely reported as 450-crore (4.5 billion rupees, or about 74 million US dollars) which, as others have pointed out, is substantially less than what it cost to make the movie GravityIt may be true that the full cost is actually a bit higher once you include all of the other required elements of the mission, but it’s still five or ten times cheaper than other Mars spacecraft.

Image from Virgin Galactic

Breaking down the price wall is what Virgin Galactic aims to do not only with people but also with satellites, thanks to LauncherOne. Smaller, cheaper satellites – some the size of a mug of tea – are going to space and bringing us back important data.

Just back from Climate Week in NYC, I’m imagining the possibilities with better data for weather prediction, disaster prevention, and climate change patterns.

When it comes to space, “radically cheaper” can mean “radically transformative.” And MOM’s successful arrival at Mars is just another sign of this enormously important change.

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