The Indian space agency’s Mars Orbiter Mission is on target to lift off in the third week of October.

“The Mars mission is getting ready at our Satellite Centre in Bengaluru [in southern India],” says Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan. “We are planning to start stacking [the launch vehicle] from July 29, and the launch will be any day from Oct. 21 from the spaceport at Sriharikota.”

Following the launch, the mission is expected to take eight months to reach Mars.

The schedule calls for insertion into Mars orbit in September 2014. The Maangalyaan orbiter will carry nine scientific instruments to study the Martian atmosphere, climate, geology, origin and evolution, as well as its past and current habitability.

“Either on Nov. 28 or 29, the Mars mission is scheduled to leave the Earth’s orbit and start its voyage to Mars,” Radhakrishnan says.

ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) will carry the Mars orbiter on its 25th flight. The Indian effort follows similar Mars missions by the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and China.

With the launch of PSLV-C22 on July 1, PSLV has made 24 flights, with 23 consecutive successes. The PSLV-C25 will feature the XL variant of the PSLV for the fifth time. The PSLV-XL is the most powerful of the PSLV stable and is the same variant successfully used for the Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon.

The Mars Orbiter is set to carry out imaging and mapping of the Mars terrain, in an operation similar to the one designed for Chandrayaan-1.

NASA will be providing the deep space navigation and tracking support for this mission when communications are not possible with the Indian Deep Space Network.

NASA and ISRO also have agreed to explore further cooperation in such fields as planetary science and heliophysics, as well as potential future missions to the Moon and Mars.

If ISRO fails to launch the Mars mission this year, the next launch opportunities occur in January-April 2016 and April-May 2018. The mission is estimated to cost 4.5 billion rupees ($83 million).

The Indian space agency has scheduled a series of launches during the current financial year, ending March 31, 2014. Among the dozen missions, ISRO plans to loft INSAT 3D, an advanced meteorological satellite, using an Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana, on July 25. This will be followed by the GSAT-14 communication satellite, using ISRO’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), on Aug. 6 from Sriharikota, and GSAT-7 from French Guiana between Aug. 22 and 24.

Another PSLV will carry the foreign commercial satellite SPOT-7 in December.

The GSLV Mk. 3 experimental mission is likely to be launched in January. This will make ISRO self-reliant in launching heavier communication satellites of INSAT-4 class, which weigh 4,500-5,000 kg.

The launch of India’s second navigation satellite, IRNSS-1D, is planned in March 2014. Before then, the agency will monitor the functioning of the IRNSS-1A launched on July 1.