India plans to launch a space probe that will orbit Mars, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed today after press reports that the mission was scheduled to begin late next year.
The project would mark another step in the country’s ambitious space program, which placed a probe on the moon three years ago and envisages its first manned mission in 2016.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is expected to launch the unmanned orbiter as early as November next year, the Press Trust of India news agency reported earlier this month.
According to one ISRO official, the cost of the mission has been estimated at four to five billion rupees (US$70m-US$90m).
India has a well-established space program which is a source of strong national pride, but it has also attracted criticism as the government struggles to tackle dire poverty and child malnutrition.
In September 2009, India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe discovered water on the moon, boosting the country’s credibility among more experienced space-faring nations.
But the space program suffered a setback in December 2010 when a satellite launch vehicle blew up and fell into the Bay of Bengal after veering from its intended flight path.
The United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and China have all sent missions to Mars.
The US robot Curiosity is currently on the surface of the “Red Planet” after landing last week to hunt for soil-based signs of life and send back data for a future human mission.
Curiosity is a nuclear-powered vehicle that is designed for a two-year mission, though scientists hope it will last at least twice that long.
What are they looking for?