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India’s Rocket Missions Are Cheaper Than What It Takes To Make A Single Hollywood Movie


Space missions are often quite costly endeavors. Many opponents have expressed their concerns about keeping NASA functioning despite the fact that their R&D effort has given the world products that are used every day.

But one country is slowly making progress in the elite space race and, moreover, it is proving that space programs need not be crazy-expensive to fund and run successfully. On June 30, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) took to the skies from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, reported Zee News. The country is now so adept at offering a piggyback ride to foreign satellites that the PSLV was loaded with five satellites from France, Germany, Canada, and Singapore. The PSLV-C23 rocket was reported to have succeeded in putting all five satellites in their respective orbits, reported Hindustan Times.

But apart from the feat of carrying multiple satellites and launching them in precise orbits, the country has managed to do so literally on a shoe-string budget. To get a clearer idea, consider the fact that the United States recently launched another Mars mission. Christened Maven, the entire Mars mission cost about $671 million.

India’s Mangalyaan satellite to Mars, cost a total of $75 million. The entire budget for the mission didn’t even cross a measly $100 million. The movie Gravity alone cost $100 million, quipped India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi:

“I have heard about the film Gravity. I am told the cost of sending an Indian rocket to space is less than the money invested in making the Hollywood movie.”

Such a huge difference seems truly impossible, but a close look at India’s space program shows how the country manages to keep the costs so low. India has been aping existing space technology and adapting it for its own needs. Moreover, with each variant, Indian scientists regularly indulge in “frugal” engineering to further reduce the costs. With the core expenditure of coming up with a technology from grounds-up eliminated, India saves a lot of time, effort, and money.

However, perhaps the most significant reduction is in the remuneration offered to the man-power. It’s no secret that a high number of scientists in NASA are of Indian origin. Well, India then has regional talent. But more importantly, the country pays them in Indian currency which is now 1/60th the US Dollar. Hence, despite earning handsomely in the local currency, the actual conversion to American dollars shows that the scientists are paid pittance.

Nonetheless, Narendra Modi has smartly recognized the revenue potential of offering Indian space technology to assist launch of foreign satellites. Given the fact that satellite launch industry generates revenue in upwards of $2.2 billion annually, the country may have successfully developed a new and lucrative revenue source.

[Image Credit | NDTV]

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4 Responses to “India’s Rocket Missions Are Cheaper Than What It Takes To Make A Single Hollywood Movie”

  1. Richard Rodick

    Your math is faulty. If Indian currency (Rupee) is values at 1/60 of a Dollar, then you must multiply their cost by 60 in order to come up with a fair comparison. which is roughly $450 Million US Dollars.

  2. Anonymous

    Going by your article, the USA has put all of its space research in public domain, so that other nations can copy off them?! What rubbish! Indian scientists whether working at NASA or ISRO share the same gene-pool and capacity for innovation. Indian scientists have had a long learning curve from the sounding rockets of the 1950s, working AGAINST parochial export-regulations imposed by USA (which exist to date!). Indians have innovated, experimented, and prioritized missions based upon the available resources. Indian space services now generate more revenue than tax-payer money put into the organizations.

    Regarding the pay-parity – have you considered the local purchasing power of the local currency versus the purchasing power of the dollar in USA? That would be a far better indicator of the relative efficiencies of the two societies in pricing their services and products for internal consumption. To help you appreciate this, I can have a fast-food restaurant lunch in India for Rs.300, and a monthly rent of a 2bdrm apt for Rs.15,000. This is approximately 0.4% and 20% of a monthly take-home salary of Rs.75,000 for a scientist. A NASA scientist with a take-home monthly salary of $6000 would pay $10 for a fast-food lunch and a monthly rental (mortgage) of $2000, or 0.1% and 33% of his/her salary.

    Only outside of India, I probably cannot afford to travel to Florida on vacation paying dollars as afford-ably as the US scientist can vacation in Kerala. Other then this, a scientist in India can enjoy similar benefits as a scientist at NASA, appropriated factored to Indian conditions.

    The key is Indian space missions will ramp up on its own terms, shorn of glamorous missions, but slowly and steadily, supported by Indians everywhere. Indians will eventually beat the USA in terms of cost-effective, reliable, payload-packed mission-efficiency. In the future, USA will probably retreat to a generator of mission-objectives and capital, but these would probably be done on India-built spacecraft and delivery platforms.

  3. Anonymous

    Its comparing Apples and Oranges. The NASA probe is much more complex than what India is sending which is very primitive and mostly a test if they can orbit something at Mars. Also the India mission has yet to get there and be successful. NASA has an impressive record at mars, even Russia has mostly had failures to the Red planet. Maybe crow when its proves successful first?

  4. Ian Elliott

    Any organization that will spend $10,000 to develop a gravityless pen instead of using a pencil cries out for an audit.