India is preparing for a Tuesday launch of its first Mars-bound spacecraft, which NASA hopes will complement its efforts on the planet.
India's PSLV-C25 rocket, carrying a Mars-bound spacecraft, sits on its launch pad, ready for a Tuesday launch. (Image: Indian Space Research Organization)
The Indian Space Research Organization spacecraft will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre near Chennai. Once the craft reaches Mars, it will orbit the planet and gather information needed for future Indian interplanetary missions.
The organization said the journey to Mars should take about 10 months.
India is looking to test its ability to build and launch a spacecraft capable of reaching and orbiting Mars, using autonomous features and surviving 300 days in space. The craft will also study the Martian surface and atmosphere.
"It's probably going to complement our research," said Michael Braukas, a NASA spokesman.
Braukas told Computerworld that India's Mars mission is not a cooperative one with NASA, but added that the U.S. agency will provide the Indian agency some deep space communications help. The U.S. plans to provide data from its satellites and antennas that show the craft's position in space, for instance.
NASA already has robotic rovers Curiosity and Opportunity exploring the surface of Mars along with orbiters Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taking images, studying the Martian atmosphere and relaying data compiled by the rovers back to Earth.
Braukas wouldn't say whether NASA is concerned that India's orbiter might interfere with the the U.S. agency's craft.
The Indian orbiter is slated to carry at least five scientific tools, including a tri-color camera to capture images of Mars surface features, and a methane sensor and a Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer to study surface composition and mineralogy.
Studying the amount of methane in the Martian atmosphere is important because living organisms emit methane. NASA's robotic rover Curiosity has been searching for signs of methane in the Martian atmosphere as part of its mission to find out if Mars now ever has been able to support life.
In September, NASA announced that Curiosity has not found a trace of methane in the Martian atmosphere, decreasing the odds that there is life on Mars.
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