India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday confirmed a high-tech space mission to Mars that will mark a major leap in the country's quest for science and technology development.
The government's first formal announcement on the country's Mars mission was made by Singh in his Independence Day address to the nation.
"Recently, the Cabinet has approved the Mars Orbiter Mission. Under this Mission, our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information," he said at the Red Fort speech marking India's 66th Independence Day.
"This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology," Singh said.
If the mission is successful, India will be the first Asian country to do so as probes sent by China and Japan had to be abandoned en route. The United States, Russia, and Europe also had launched a mission to the Red Planet.
The Mars Orbiter Mission is estimated to cost 4,500 million Indian rupees ($81 million).
As per the proposal drawn up by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket carrying a spacecraft with a 25 kilogram scientific payload will be launched in November next year, when the planet is closest to Earth.
The spacecraft, to be launched from the southern coastal spaceport in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, is expected to enter a highly elliptical orbit around Mars in September 2014.
The spacecraft has a tentative scientific objective for studying the climate, geology, origin, evolution and sustainability of life on the planet.
Scientific payloads for the Mars Orbiter Mission have been short-listed by ISRO's Advisory Committee for Space Sciences (ADCOS) review. If the ISRO fails to launch the Mars Mission next year, other opportunities are available in 2016 and 2018.
The Prime Minister also congratulated scientists and technologists who have enhanced the country's prestige by successfully testing the Agni V Missile and launching the RISAT-I Satellite in space this year.
The Cabinet had cleared the mission to Mars early this month, but an official announcement was not made then as it was to be part of the Prime Minister's Independence Day address.
by RTT Staff Writer
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