India's Mars mission leaves earth's orbit

Country hopes cheap venture will catapult it into multibillion-dollar global space market

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 2:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 4:54am

India's first mission to Mars left earth's orbit early yesterday, clearing a critical hurdle in its journey to the red planet and overtaking the recent efforts of rival China.

The success of the spacecraft, scheduled to orbit Mars by next September, would carry India into a small club of nations, including the United States and Russia, whose probes have orbited or landed on Mars.

The venture, called Mangalyaan, faces further hurdles on its journey to Mars. Fewer than half of missions to the planet succeed.

"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 country.

China's Mars probe rode piggyback on a Russian spacecraft that failed to leave Earth's orbit in November 2011. The spacecraft disintegrated in the atmosphere and its fragments fell into the Pacific Ocean last year.

India's mission showcases the country's cheap technology, encouraging hopes it could capture more of the US$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 Mars mission has a price tag of 4.5 billion rupees (HK$558.4 million), just over a 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, 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.

The probe completed six orbits around earth before yesterday's "slingshot", which took it into a path around the sun to carry it towards Mars. The slingshot requires precise calculations to eliminate the risk of missing the new orbit.