New Delhi: The technical success of Chandrayaan-I appears to have lifted ISRO's ambitions into a higher orbit and now sees it gearing up for bigger challenges. The Indian space agency today announced it had begun preparations for a mission to Mars and had received seed money of Rs10 crore from the government.
The mission will launch sometime over the next six years.
The seed money would enable ISRO carry out various studies on the experiments to be conducted in course of the mission, the route that the proposed spacecraft would take on its way to the Red Planet and other related details, said ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair.
"Already mission studies have been completed. Now we are trying to collect scientific proposals and scientific objectives," he told reporters on the sidelines of a day-long workshop of the Astronautical Society of India here.
Nair said the space agency was looking at launch opportunities between 2013 and 2015.
The technical complexity of the Chandrayaan-I mission and its spectacular success appears to have inspired young scientists in the country to approach ISRO, which has determined to tap this pool of talent for the Mars mission.
"A lot of young scientists are being brought into the mission, particularly from the Indian Institute of Space Technology, the Physical Research Laboratory, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and other research laboratories," K Radhakrishnan, director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said.
He also said the space agency would use its Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) to put the Mars satellite in orbit. The agency was currently mulling the use of ion-thrusters, liquid engines or nuclear power to propel it on its journey to the Red Planet.
Asian space race
That India is in a dead heat with China with respect to its space programme, alongside other areas of economy and defence, is no secret. ISRO's announcement of its Mars programme comes even as China prepares to launch its first satellite to probe Mars.
The satellite has been transported to Russia for a launch in October, state media reported Thursday. The 110-kilogramme Chinese satellite will be launched along with Russia's "Phobos Explorer" aboard a Zenit rocket after final testing.
After a 10-11 month long journey to Mars the Chinese orbiter will begin to probe the Martian space environment, seeking answers to the missing water that appeared to have flown in copious quantities sometime in Martian history.
ISRO's announcement of its own Mars mission comes even as the technical sophistication of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, and its cost-competitiveness compared to the Chinese and Japanese lunar missions which just preceded it, have left international audiences wowed.
Without a doubt Chandrayaan-1 delivered more bang for the buck, carrying more payload than either of the two competing Chinese or Japanese lunar missions, at approximately three times less cost.
Inspite of a near-hysterical drive in the Chinese media to describe the Indian lunar mission a failure, Chandrayaan-1 has already completed 90 per cent of its mission objectives in less than half its programmed lifetime.
While the Chinese space programme essentially operates on borrowed Russian ''steroids'' (a large number of its ''experts'' are hired Russian scientists who left their country in the early days of the collapse of the Soviet Union, lured by higher salaries offered by China) ISRO has valiantly struggled against all odds, including crippling sanctions regimes repeatedly imposed by the United States, which have delayed projects for years.
The sanctions regime continues to this day, though in a curtailed manner.
China became the third nation to put a man into space in 2003. ISRO is set to follow suit with its own maiden manned mission, slated for 2015. It also has plans to land an Indian on the lunar surface by 2020.