India has recently sent a small spacecraft to Mars, as a technology demonstration mission. It has also subsequently successfully demonstrated its much-delayed cryogenic upper stage engine with the launch of its GSLV D5.

Cryogenic propulsion is a prerequisite for India's next generation of rocket, the GSLV-Mark-III. The planned payload capacity of the Mk-3 is much higher than the PSLV rocket which launched India's Mars Orbiter Mission, giving rise to calls to send a more substantive mission to Mars; this in the form of a lander mission.

Based on the projected launch capacity of the Mk-3 -

  • How massive a lander could India send to Mars?
  • Would there be adequate margin to accommodate a rover?

3 Answers 3


Strictly from the lifting capacity perspective, yes. ISRO now quotes expected GSLV Mk. III lifting capacity to GTO (Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit) at 4,000 kg, which is greater than, for example, Delta II-H 7925H-9.5 that was used for MER-B (Opportunity) which had lifting capacity to GTO at 2,170 kg (1,265 kg to HCO). Spirit (MER-A) was launched on an even slower transfer orbit (Heliocentric or HCO) on Delta II 7925-9.5 with lifting capacity of up to 1,819 kg to GTO and (1,508 kg to HCO).

That's of course assuming ISRO can pull off something similar to MER-A and MER-B and GSLV Mk. III cryogenic upper stage can follow required mission profile (here's a PDF of NASA's MER project mission profiles). GTO are otherwise somewhat comparable to HCO, since they require upper stage engine restarts to successfully launch satellites into GTO and achieve desired inclination, something that would also be required to perform Oberth maneuvers to reach escape velocity and achieve Hohmann Transfer Orbit to Mars.

So it's very likely that ISRO could hurl, guesstimating here, up to around 3 metric tonnes heavy cargo into HCO. But even expected Mk. III performance (even if it was 5,000 kg to GTO, as Wikipedia quotes it) wouldn't be enough to do something similar to MSL, that was launched on an Atlas V 541 with lifting capacity of 8,240 to GTO.

  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps a GSLV-Mk4 with a couple of extra SRBs added on, could loft something in the 5-8 ton range to GTO/HCO? $\endgroup$
    – user1456
    Jan 22, 2014 at 1:50
  • $\begingroup$ @user1456 Mk. IV is to my knowledge going to be a quad-SRBs configuration of Mk. III, but the rest of the configuration stays the same. It's hard to speculate on its lifting capacity if even the Mk. III one isn't yet established, but I can't see it adding more than roughly 30% to its capacity (and that's a generous estimate). So if Mk. III is expected at somewhere between 4 - 5,000 kg to GTO, that should put Mk. IV at around 6,000 kg, tops. For more, a completely new core stage would be required. ;) $\endgroup$
    – TildalWave
    Jan 22, 2014 at 2:06

Answers so far have addressed India's launch capability, but it should be noted that quite aside from delivering a ton or two to $C_3 > 0$, the technical challenge of building a lander that will successfully touch down on Mars is substantial.

Experience from the development of Chandrayaan-2 will be helpful, but that has yet to be built and flown, and Mars presents more difficulties than the moon: Navigation and communication are much more challenging, and atmospheric entry and deceleration are wholly new.

All this is not to say that India can't do it! It just might take more time and money, and possibly more than one attempt, than one might imagine from looking only at launch vehicle availability.


India has the lift capacity, as evidenced by their recent mars probe launch. A small rover could be less mass than the orbiter they sent, which has a laden mass of about 515kg.

Further, India has built and deployed landers on the moon.

So, it's proveably possible for them to do so. Whether or not the financial and political issues will allow them to proceed, is another matter, but the technical capability is already in evidence.

❶ Chandrayaan-2 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrayaan-2
❷ Indian Mars Mission (PBS) www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/world/jan-june14/indiaspace_01-18.html
❸ Mars Orbiter Mission en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Orbiter_Mission

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ India has not yet placed a lander or rover on moon. Yes they had an impacter from Chandrayaan-1. Recently they announced an intent to construct a rover for Chandrayaan-2 as all the related studies have been completed. They need a strong budget which is yet their weakness. With the advent of cryo engine they are close to accomplish the mission. Further links: m.rediff.com/news/report/… livemint.com/Politics/H4xVWokiuokVqSQ4GUTzUN/… $\endgroup$
    – Niket
    Sep 26, 2014 at 16:31

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