India's space agency ISRO is working at a brisk pace towards launching its most ambitious project - the Mars Mission.
ISRO is likely to launch the Mars Orbiter Mission (or MOM) between October and November, in a bid to find out signs of life as well as clues on why Mars lacks atmosphere.
The ₹450-crore mission is on track and scientists have already begun integrating the payloads. The orbiter will carry a total of five payloads weighing about 14.49 kg. It will be equipped with a methane sensor to detect any signs of past life. Determining the presence of methane is a sign suggesting that life once existed on the Martian planet.
MOM will be launched using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh. The satellite is expected to exit the Earth's orbit in the last week of November and continue its journey towards Mars. It will travel in space for about 10 months and reach Mars in September 2014.
"As per plans, the satellite is expected to exit the Earth orbit on November 26/27, travel towards Mars over around 300 days. We plan to insert the satellite in an orbit around Mars on September 22, 2014," an official of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) told The Hindu.
The orbiter will be placed in an elliptical orbit at a closest distance of 500 km from the surface of Mars and the farthest point will be 80,000 km. It will orbit the Red planet once in every three days. The Mars orbiter will study the Martian surface and the minerals on the Red planet's soil.
With the launch of the Mars mission, India will join countries including United States, Europe, Russia and Japan that have sent Mars missions. U.S. space agency NASA successfully launched Mars rover Curiosity in 2011. Curiosity landed on Mars' Gale Crater last August. The rover is on a two-year mission to find out if the conditions on the Martian soil have ever supported microbial life.
Recently, the rover found evidence suggesting that Mars could have supported microbial life. Last month, rover drilled into a flat rock and collected the powdered sample using its robotic arm. The samples were analyzed by rover's Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) and Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instruments, which revealed that presence of sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen - some of the important chemical ingredients that can provide energy source for life. Scientists are yet to confirm if the organics detected in the soil are from the Martian rock or from Earth's contaminants.