India’s Mars mission in Nov next year, Cabinet to give nod today

Four years after successfully launching a moon probe, India has decided to make another ambitious space effort by sending an orbiter to Mars in November 2013. India will be the sixth space power to undertake such an effort after the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and China, whose maiden attempt last year was unsuccessful.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is learnt to have approved the Rs 450 crore-mission slated for launch on November 20, 2013. The final approvals are expected at Thursday's cabinet meeting, sources said. The Space Commission gave its green signal last December.

Explaining the timing of the mission, sources said that an attempt to Mars has the best chance when the planet is closest to Earth and a launch on November 20, 2013 gives it one such window. The next opportunity, the Department of Space (DoS) has said, will only be some five years later in the summer of 2018. In fact, NASA too is said to be contemplating a Mars mission in November next year.

The proposed project schedule says that the spacecraft for the Mars orbiter will be ready for launch from Sriharikota by October-November next year. The DoS has indicated to the government that the orbiter will enter Mars's orbit by September 2014, making it an approximately 300-day voyage. India plans to launch its orbiter on its own Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-XL).

The Chinese made their attempt last November through their satellite Yinghuo-1 that was launched by a Russian rocket from Baikonur in Kazakhstan but its engines failed to provide the momentum to escape earth's gravity. The satellite and the craft remained locked in earth's orbit before crashing into the Pacific Ocean in January this year.

A team of 185 scientists from different units of the Indian Space Research Organisation will collaborate for this ambitious project. The Indian Mars orbiter, the DoS has said, is "derived from the Chandrayaan heritage" and takes into account the lessons learnt from that project.

The main improvisations in the Mars mission over Chandrayaan would be to provide on-board autonomy in communication, enhanced power generation capacity given the large distance from the Sun and in the propulsion systems due to the long distance.

Besides, two ship-borne transportable terminals will be deployed in the Pacific Ocean during the launch phase of the flight. The project will necessitate augmenting the existing Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) to meet the telemetry requirements of this mission.

So far, there have been 42 unmanned missions attempted to Mars, of which 21 have failed in the launch phase itself. However, the DoS has argued that an Indian initiative will "demonstrate our technological capability to reach Martian orbit". Justifying the mission, the department has also said that the project would bring "strategic advantage" to India in the international decision-making process on matters related to Mars.

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