With the aim to putting a satellite in space that would orbit Mars, India launched its first rocket, the Mars Orbiter Mission. Shot from the southeastern coast of India, the satellite is scheduled to search for methane and signs of minerals on the planet. So far, only the United States, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on Mars. Such probes have a high failure rate. Therefore, success would be a huge boost for India, especially since a similar mission launched by China in 2011 had failed to leave the Earth’s orbit.
India’s ties with China are marked as much by competition as cooperation. Although Indian scientists deny any space race, analysts say that India has stepped up its program because of concerns about China’s civilian and military space technology.
The low-cost mission positions India as a budget player in the global space race. The probe’s Rs.4.5 billion price tag is a fraction of the cost of NASA’s MAVEN mission. India is likely to capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology. “This is a modest beginning for our interplanetary mission,” said Deviprasad Karnik, spokesman for the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
India’s space program began 50 years ago and developed rapidly after Western powers imposed sanctions in response to a nuclear weapons test in 1974, spurring Indian scientists to build advanced rocket technology. Five years ago, India’s Chandrayaan probe landed on the moon and found evidence of water there.