NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – India launched its first rocket to Mars yesterday, aiming to put a satellite in orbit around the red planet at a lower cost than previous missions and potentially positioning the emerging Asian nation as a budget player in the global space race.
The Mars Orbiter Mission blasted off from the southeastern coast with the satellite scheduled to start orbiting Mars by September, searching for methane and signs of minerals.
“This is our modest beginning for our interplanetary mission,” said Deviprasad Karnik, spokesman for the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Only the United States, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on Mars. Probes to Mars have a high failure rate and a success will be a boost for national pride, especially after a similar mission by China failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 2011.
India’s ties with its neighbour are marked as much by competition as cooperation. Government scientists deny any space race, but analysts say India has stepped up its programme because of concerns about China’s civilian and military space technology.
The probe’s 4.5 billion rupee ($73 million) price tag is a fraction of the cost of NASA’s MAVEN mission, also due to launch in November. Analysts say India could capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology.
The Mars mission is considerably cheaper than some of India’s more lavish spending schemes, including a $340 million plan to build the world’s largest statue in the state of Gujarat, including surrounding infrastructure.