by a Thinker, Sailor, Blogger, Irreverent Guy from Madras

Astrosat is not India’s Hubble

Of late it has become the habit of chauvinistic, if not jingoistic, Indian netizens to compare whatever ISRO does with that of NASA, and falsely claim that we have bettered NASA (or others).  We saw many of those silly tweets when India’s own Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched at the same time as NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft.

The immediate comparison was how cheap MOM was (~$78 million) versus MAVEN (~$671 million).  It was conveniently brushed over that MAVEN is more than four times bigger at 65 kg versus the 15 kg Mangalyaan, apart from other technical capabilities.  While India did good, we have a long haul ahead to catch up with the Americans.

With today’s launch of the first dedicated Astronomical observation satellite Astrosat by ISRO, the gung-ho crowd is sure to go about how the “India’s own Hubble” cost a mere Rs. 178 Crores (~$27 million) while the famed HST burned a $2.5 billion hole.  Once again let us just compare their weight, keeping the technology and its maturity out of it.

The Astrosat weighs around 1500 kg, whereas the Hubble Space Telescope is a behemoth at 11,110 kg – the heaviest satellite ever launched till date.

In this respect, it was interesting to listen to Dr. Kasturirangan, former Director, ISRO, during his post-launch speech.  He said something like, ‘when we planned the Astrosat about 10 years ago, the thinking was it should be up and flying in 8 to 10 years, as otherwise ISRO will be beaten by competitors.  But I am happy to say that no one in the world has plans for a similar craft till date.'

I guess the good doctor does not consider NASA and James Webb Telescope (JWT) as competitors, as he knows the technology gap between India  and the USA.

That is how scientists think and work - within the resources, prioritizing the requirements, planning ahead - for their successors to carry on, reap the benefits, and build on.  Hats off to them.  Great work ISRO.

But there is one area where Indians are as good as the Americans – photoshopping.  So here is my one up on the original NASA image, with the insertion of Astrosat.  Have fun.



  1. The scientific payload of MAVEN was 65 Kg, and that of MOM 15 Kg. The liftoff mass of MAVEN was 2454 kg (dry satellite mass was 809 Kg). The liftoff mass of MOM was 1337 Kg (dry 485 Kg). Clearly MAVEN is bigger but MOM is not that small (roughly half the mass of MAVEN). It may be an interesting question to ask how the mission cost scales in proportion to mass of an inter-planetary payload. Nevertheless, ISRO's Mars mission *is decidedly* cheaper than the NASA mission.


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