Indian space officials expect the country's first mission to Mars to receive final government approval soon, with a launch planned for November 2013.
“The project has reached the last phase of approval. Many studies relating to the mission have been completed, and an announcement can be expected soon,” Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan says.
The U.S. government is expected to give its final approval after's Mars Science Laboratory lands there on Aug. 6 (EDT), though India's orbiter mission will not be on the same scale as that undertaken by 's car-sized rover.
India's Mars orbiter is expected to be launched from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. The project received a boost in the federal budget for the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, with the government allocating 1.25 billion rupees ($22.6 million).
The mission involves nine scientific experiments. But according to ISRO scientists, the number could be reduced by weight considerations. The mission would launch on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL), which also was used for India's Moon mission, Chandrayaan-1. The orbit will be 500 X 80,000 km around Mars, and the mission will carry nearly 25 kg (55 lb.) of scientific payloads.
“The tentative scientific objective for the Mars mission will be to focus on life, climate, geology, origin, evolution and sustainability of life on the planet,” according to ISRO.
ISRO officials say a significant amount of work on the mission has been completed and scientific payloads have been shortlisted. The project report for the mission has been submitted for government approval.
“And I am sure that, maybe soon, we will be hearing an announcement on the Mars mission,” Radhakrishnan says.
India has achieved some success in space with its lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which was the first to discover the presence of water molecules on the Moon. A follow-up, Chandrayaan-2, is expected to use a Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV). But ISRO is investigating recent GSLV failures and plans to launch two other satellites using GSLV Mk. II prior to lofting Chandrayaan-2, Radhakrishnan says. The space agency is working to improve the rocket's cryogenic engine, and associated tests should be completed by November, he adds.