Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, has announced earlier this week that the Asian nation will launch an unmanned spacecraft towards the Red Planet in 2013. The robotic orbiter is scheduled to survey our neighboring world for several years.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will handle all the details related to the planning, design, development and commissioning of the spacecraft. Total costs are currently estimated at $82 million (4.5 billion rupees).
The announcement was made on Wednesday, August 15, a day that marked the 65th anniversary of India obtaining its independence from the British Empire, and becoming a sovereign nation. The country's Cabinet has already approved the mission, Singh added.
Called the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), the spacecraft is currently scheduled to launch no earlier than November 2013. It represents another step taken by ISRO towards expanding and diversifying its space program, which has already achieved some remarkable feats over the past few years.
Chandrayaan-1, for example, is a lunar orbiter that arrived at Earth's natural satellite in 2008. Developed under a partnership with NASA, its instruments were essential towards confirming that water is actually present on the Moon.
Chandrayaan-2, a follow-up mission, is scheduled to take off next year as well. The spacecraft will continue investigating the lunar surface. Unlike its predecessor, it will also feature a robotic lander, which will enable Indian scientists to collect direct data from regolith (lunar soil).
By 2015, ISRO wants to launch its first manned spacecraft, too. An orbital vehicle is already under development, and flight tests are scheduled to begin over the next couple of years, Space
MOM represents the first time the Indian space agency turns its attention to the Red Planet. “Under this mission, our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information. This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology,” Singh told the media.
India is one of the most recent entries in the international space club. The country is however not as advanced as China. The most populous country in the world has already performed its first manned flights, its first (manned and unmanned) orbital dockings, and is now gearing up to build a space station.
The China National Space Administration (CNSA) expects the latter to be ready by 2020. In addition, it is currently developing the necessary infrastructure to support a manned mission to the Moon.