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India’s $82 million mission to Mars orbit planned for 2013

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India plans to launch a satellite to orbit Mars in October or November next year in a bid to compete with Asian rivals China and Japan in space exploration.

The proposed craft would be sent into space aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Sriharikota space station in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, V. Narayanasamy, a minister in the prime minister’s office, said in a written parliamentary reply today. The mission is yet to receive government approval, he said.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Curiosity rover landed safely on Mars on Aug. 6 to help determine whether the red planet has an environment that can support life. After this, the only planned U.S. mission to Mars is an atmospheric orbiter meant to launch next year.

India, where the World Bank estimates more than 800 million people live on less than $2 a day, launched its first space rocket in 1963 and its first satellite in 1975.

Its $82 million unmanned mission to the moon ended in August 2009 after scientists failed to restore contact with the Chandrayaan-1 craft. Data from the probe showed water formation may be an ongoing process on the moon, in a major boost to the South Asian country’s space program. It plans to spend $2.5 billion by 2015 on a manned lunar mission.

India’s proposed Mars satellite would “demonstrate the country’s technological capability to reach Martian orbit” and pave the way for future launches, said Narayanasamy. The 2013 mission may cost 4.5 billion rupees ($81.6 million), he said.

Rocket Failure

The former chief of the Indian Space Research Organization, G. Madhavan Nair, has criticized the agency’s new focus on Mars, the Press Trust of India reported Aug. 4. Nair said ISRO should instead concentrate on its manned space flight program and fixing problems with its next generation of satellite-launching rockets.

India’s bid to join an elite club of five nations, including Japan and China, using their own advanced cryogenic rocket technology to launch large satellites failed in April 2010 as scientists lost control of the craft minutes after blastoff.

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