India's space agency plans to send an orbiter to
Mars in November 2013 once the federal cabinet approves the project,
officials said Thursday.
The final approval for the project - estimated to cost 4.5 billion rupees (about 80 million dollars) - was expected this week, an official at the Indian Space Research Organisation said.
Information prepared for the cabinet proposed a launch on November 26, 2013. The next opportunity for a launch would come in May 2018.
Several countries have attempted missions to study Mars, a planet that has many similarities with Earth.
The latest is the US space agency's Mars Science Laboratory, which was scheduled to land on Mars Monday.
A number of studies related to the Indian mission had already been completed, said DP Karnik, a spokesman for the Indian space agency.
The Mars orbiter spacecraft weighing 1,350 kilogrammes was expected to be placed in an elliptical orbit above Mars by September 2014 after a voyage of 300 days from the Earth, according to the cabinet note.
The orbiter was expected to carry nine scientific experiments for exploration of Martian terrain, subsoil features and atmosphere.
The spacecraft would be put into orbit using India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.
The vehicle was also used to launch India's lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 in 2008.
That mission, which had to be aborted in 2009 several months before schedule because of a communications failure, discovered the presence of water molecules on the moon.
The cabinet note cautioned that of the 42 unmanned missions undertaken to Mars by various countries since 1960, half had been failures and the media and public would need to be educated on the risks involved in the mission.
India would be the sixth government to undertake a Mars mission after the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and China, whose maiden attempt in 2011 was unsuccessful.
India's mission would give the country strategic advantage besides demonstrating its technological capability and generating national pride, the note for the cabinet said.
After decades of focusing on applications like telecommunications and remote sensing aimed at economic and social development, India has been looking at space exploration over the past decade.
Its space agency has a string of missions in the pipeline besides the Mars mission, including a second mission to the moon, a manned space flight and a satellite to skirt the outer solar atmosphere.
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