India's spacecraft 'on target' to reach Mars

It is India's first mission to the planet to search for evidence of life


Afp September 15, 2014

BANGALORE: An Indian spacecraft is on course to reach Mars, an official said Monday, following a 666-million-kilometre voyage that could see New Delhi's low-cost space programme win Asia's race to the Red Planet.

The 350-tonne rocket carrying an unmanned probe is set to enter Mars's orbit next week after 10 months in space.

It is India's first mission to the planet to search for evidence of life.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) official Koteswara Rao said the rocket has travelled almost 666 million kilometres since its launch from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota last November.

"India will be the first country in the world to insert a spacecraft into the Martian orbit in a maiden attempt if the operation succeeds," ISRO scientific secretary V Koteswara Rao told reporters.

"And also the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet's sphere," Rao said.

Rao said the rocket's engines will be "woken up" to allow for a "course correction" on Sunday before its arrival on September 24.

ISRO scientists will also slow down the craft now travelling at 22.2 kilometres per second to 2.14 metres per second to allow for a smoother entry into the planet's orbit.

The cost of the project, at $70 million, is a fraction of the $671 million NASA spacecraft that also launched last year and is expected to arrive within days of the Indian craft.

India has never before attempted inter-planetary travel. More than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including China's in 2011 and Japan's in 2003.

Only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have been successful.

The Mars Orbiter Mission was revealed only 15 months ago by the previous Indian prime minister.

The timing and place of the announcement -- in an Independence Day speech -- led to speculation India was seeking to make a point to China, despite denials from ISRO.

The gold-coloured probe, the size of a small car, will aim to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form on the fourth planet from the sun.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed the country's low-cost technology, saying a domestically-made rocket that launched four foreign satellites into orbit in June had cost less to make than the Hollywood film Gravity.

But the programme has also faced critics who say a country that struggles to feed its people adequately should not be splurging on space travel.

COMMENTS (10)

Sree | 7 years ago | Reply

The article is not accurate. The launcher that sent the spacecraft on its way to Mars weighed 350 Tonnes. The spacecraft itself has a launch mass of 1350 kgs, much of which is fuel. A significant amount of fuel was burned in taking the spacecraft from the Earth orbit that the launcher placed it in, to the trans-Mars orbit that has taken it to Mars.

Sree | 7 years ago | Reply

Moiz,

Correction: the US launched the Nike Apache sounding rockets from a Pakistani launch site in 1962. It was an entirely US built and US launched rocket. The US launched similar sounding rockets from an Indian site the next year (1963), so yes, technically it is correct that the sounding rockets were launched from a Pakistani site before they were launched from an Indian site. But India built a space program from that initial start. Pakistani launched a space agency, but it has very little to show in the form of achievements either in launch vehicles or satellites. There never was a space race between Pakistan and India. While India built a robust space program that continues to progress, Pakistan did not invest in one. It invested primarily in the military missile program.

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