The success of the spacecraft, scheduled to orbit Mars by next
September, would carry India into a small club, which includes the
United States, Europe and Russia, whose probes have orbited or
landed on Mars.
India's venture, called Mangalyaan, faces more hurdles on its
journey to Mars. Fewer than half of missions to the planet are
"While Mangalyaan takes 1.2 billion dreams to Mars, we wish you
sweet dreams!" India's space agency said in a tweet soon after the
event, referring to the citizens of the world's second-most populous
China, a keen competitor in the space race, has considered the
possibility of putting a man on the moon sometime after 2020 and
aims to land its first probe on the moon on Monday.
It will deploy a buggy called the "Jade Rabbit" to explore the lunar
surface in a mission that will also test its deep space
China's Mars probe rode piggyback on a Russian spacecraft that
failed to leave Earth's orbit in November 2011. The spacecraft
crumbled in the atmosphere and its fragments fell into the Pacific
India's mission showcases the country's cheap technology,
encouraging hopes it could capture more of the $304-billion global
space market, which includes launching satellites for other
countries, analysts say.
"Given its cost-effective technology, India is attractive," said
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, an expert on space security at the
Observer Research Foundation think-tank in Delhi.
India's low-cost Mars mission has a price tag of 4.5 billion rupees
($73 million), just over one-tenth of the cost of NASA's latest
mission there, which launched on November 18.
Homegrown companies — including India's largest infrastructure group
Larsen & Toubro, one of its biggest conglomerates, Godrej & Boyce,
state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Walchand
Nagar Industries — made more than two-thirds of the parts for both
the probe and the rocket that launched it on November 5.
India's probe completed six orbits around Earth before Sunday's
"slingshot," which set it on a path around the sun to carry it
toward Mars. The slingshot requires precise calculations to
eliminate the risk of missing the new orbit.
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"Getting to Mars is a big achievement," said Mayank Vahia, a
professor in the astronomy and astrophysics department of the Tata
Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.
India's space agency will have to make a few mid-course corrections
to keep the probe on track. Its next big challenge will be to enter
an orbit around Mars next year, a test failed in 2003 by Japan's
probe, which suffered electrical faults as it neared the planet.
"You have to slow the spacecraft down once it gets close to Mars, to
catch the orbit, but you can't wait until Mars is in the field of
view to do it — that's too late," Vahia said.
India launched its space program 50 years ago and developed its own
rocket technology after Western powers levied sanctions for a 1974
nuclear weapons test. Five years ago, its Chandrayaan satellite
found evidence of water on the moon.
By contrast, India has had mixed results in the aerospace industry.
Hindustan Aeronautics has been developing a light combat aircraft
since the early 1980s, with no success.
The Mars probe will study the planet's surface and mineral
composition, besides sniffing the atmosphere for methane, a chemical
strongly tied to life on Earth. NASA mission Curiosity did not find
significant amounts of the gas in recent tests.
China is still far from catching up with the established space
superpowers, the United States and Russia, which decades ago learned
the docking techniques China is only now mastering.
Beijing says its space program is for peaceful purposes, but the
U.S. Defense Department has highlighted China's increasing space
capabilities, saying it was pursuing ways to keep adversaries from
using space-based assets during a crisis.
(Additional reporting by Krishna N Das in New Delhi and Sumeet
Chatterjee in Mumbai; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)