India’s first Mars mission has received a major boost after gaining a substantial increase in funding.
In the country’s annual Union Budget announcement, India’s space agency – the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) – saw its Mars budget increase significantly from Rs 10 crore (£1.25 million) to Rs 125 crore (£15.7 million).
The increase has allayed fears held by some in the Indian space community that the mission would never get beyond the planning stages.
ISRO had been aiming to launch the mission no earlier than 2016 but the new budget could see that date moving as far forward as November 2013.
The project will hope to build on the success of the country’s first lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which was launched in October 2008. Originally planned as a two-year mission, Chandrayaan-1 developed technical problems and was shut down after 312 days.
A second lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-2, is scheduled to launch by 2014. The mission includes a lunar rover provided by the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos. The science goals of Chandrayaan-2 according to the ISRO are to improve understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon using instruments onboard the Orbiter and from analysis of lunar samples collected by the lunar rover.
There are voices in the Indian space community calling for the Mars mission to be given priority over Chandrayaan-2.
As it stands, the mission would consist of placing a spacecraft into the Red Planet’s orbit to study its atmosphere, climate, geology, and suitability for life.
However, an ISRO official said. “We are yet to finalise the scientific experiments for the Mars Mission.”
The space agency will use its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, or GSLV (pictured left) to put the satellite into orbit.
To get the craft the rest of the way to Mars ISRO are considering liquid rocket engines, nuclear power or ion-thrusters.
The orbiter is expected to weigh less that 500kg and, so far, ten instruments are being considered for the craft’s 25kg science payload.
The total projected cost for the mission is Rs 207 crore (£25.8 million).
Despite the mission’s budget increase, the cost of the Indian mission remains frugal when compared to Mars missions launched by the likes of NASA and the European Space Agency.
The total budget for ESA’s Mars Express orbiter was £116 million – more than four times the cost of the Indian mission. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, whose HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) captured the stunning main image, had a budget of £554 million – more than 21 times more.
If the mission fails to make the November 2013 launch date, the space agency has identified two further launch windows in 2016 and 2018.
India is also looking to develop its human space flight capabilities and is working towards a manned vehicle, called the Orbital Vehicle, that would be able to carry three astronauts into Earth orbit for seven days. Later this would be upgraded to include a rendezvous and docking capability.