India plans to send an unmanned orbiter to Mars in November 2013 to study the climate and the geology of the Red Planet.
According to AFP, India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has given his authorization and the final government approvals are expected at the end of this week.
"We will embark on the Mars mission after the Department of Science gives the green signal and decides the schedule early next year," Deviprasad Karnik, director of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation told the French news agency.
A senior official at the Indian Space Research Organisation, requesting anonymity, estimated the cost of the mission at about $70 million to $90 million. The central government earmarked about $22 million for the project in the last federal budget.
In October 2008, India successfully launched its first unmanned lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, which detected water on the Moon. According to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s website, the country is planning a second unmanned mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, which will include both an orbiter and a lunar rover.
The news comes as NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is set to touch down on August 5. The $2.5 billion rover, the largest manmade object ever to visit another world, is designed to assess the Red Planet's habitability.
India's mission is not without its risks. As Wired points out this week, the success rate for landing on the Red Planet is only about 30 percent. So far only the Soviet Union and United States have undertaken successful missions to the Martian surface.