With ’s Mars Science Laboratory having just touched down at Gale Crater on Mars, the Indian government now has given the final green light for its first orbiter mission to the red planet in November 2013.
In December 2011, India’s Space Commission gave its approval for the project, which is estimated to cost around 4.5 billion rupees ($80.7 million). The government has allocated 1.25 billion rupees for the initial phase of the mission for India’s current fiscal year, which ends March 31, 2013.
The project, which comes after India’s Chandrayaan mission to the Moon, envisages putting a spacecraft in Mars’ orbit to study its atmosphere. The spacecraft will be boosted by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which was also used for Chandrayaan-1.
“The spacecraft will have a scientific payload of 25 kilograms [55 lb.] and is proposed to be placed in an orbit of 500 x 80,000 kilometers around the planet,” according to a scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
India’s Mars orbiter is expected to be launched from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh and will take nearly 300 days to reach Martian orbit. The mission is currently slated to carry nine scientific experiments, but that number could be reduced by weight considerations, the official says.
“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 short-listed.
India will be the sixth country to launch a mission to Mars after the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and China. China made an attempt to launch a satellite to Mars in November 2011, but the spacecraft was unable to escape Earth’s gravity and crashed into the Pacific Ocean in January.
If the ISRO fails to launch the Mars Mission next year, other launch opportunities are available in 2016 and 2018.