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India heads for Mars and moon in research revamp

India has set its sights on Mars as part of a space strategy oriented towards basic science.

The strategy has been developed by the country’s Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory.

During a two-day conference on planetary sciences and exploration in Bangalore in early February, PRL scientists discussed the concepts of 10 possible experiments for the exploration of the Red Planet using an orbiter.

The experiments cover new scientific terrain rather than build on previous experiments, says J N Goswami, director of PRL. The exercise was designed to provide inputs to the Indian Space Research Organisation when it plans such a mission, he says.

In the past, India’s space programme has focused on societal applications, such as the use of space technology for education, health, telecommunications, resource management and disaster-related services. The revised strategy includes more basic space research without immediate applications.

The first Mars mission could take place in 2016, according to PRL scientists.

The PRL conference proposed a spacecraft that could gather scientific data while operating in an elliptical orbit. One of the proposed experiments—Probe For Infrared Spectroscopy for Mars (Prism)—would study aspects of the Martian atmosphere and spatial and seasonal variations of atmospheric gases.

While the Mars mission is at a conceptual stage, ISRO is going full steam ahead on a moon mission in partnership with Russia —its second moon mission with Russia.

Depending on developments related to the Indian GSLV launcher, the moon mission may get off the ground next year.

Chandrayaan-2 is designed to look for water and other substances near the South Pole of the moon. The orbiter, equipped with cameras and scientific instruments, developed by ISRO, will circle the moon. The lander, built by Russia, will go down to the lunar surface, carrying its own suite of instruments as well as a rover, built by ISRO.

India is already involved in several space research collaborations with the US and Europe.

Indian space scientists are poring over the data and images sent by the joint Franco-India mission Megha-Tropiques, which was launched by India in October 2011 to study the water cycle in the tropical atmosphere.