Thursday, September 25, 2014

Indian Mars probe sends first images

The Indian satellite which entered orbit around Mars on Wednesday has begun work, taking pictures of the planet's surface, media reports say.

Space agency officials said a handful of images had been sent and were being processed before being released.

The 'Mangalyaan' robotic probe, one of the cheapest interplanetary missions ever, will also study the Red Planet's atmosphere.

Media in India have hailed the mission as a 'historic achievement'.

The Hindu newspaper reported that the probe 'has beamed back about 10 pictures of the Red Planet's surface which show some craters'.

Officials were quoted by the newspaper as saying the pictures were of 'good quality'. They will reportedly be shown to Prime Minister Narendra Modi before being made public.

Analysis - Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent

India's space programme has succeeded at the first attempt where others have failed - by sending an operational mission to Mars.

The Mangalyaan satellite was confirmed to be in orbit shortly after 0800, Indian time. It is, without doubt, a considerable achievement.

This is a mission that has been budgeted at 4.5bn rupees ($74m), which, by Western standards, is staggeringly cheap.

The American Maven orbiter that arrived at the Red Planet on Monday is costing almost 10 times as much.

Back in June, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi even quipped that India's real-life Martian adventure was costing less than the make-believe Hollywood film Gravity.

Why India's Mars mission is so cheap - and thrilling

Maiden success

Reports said the camera was the first of the instruments being carried by the satellite to be switched on, a few hours after it entered the planet's orbit.

India's 1,350kg (2,976lb) robotic satellite, which undertook a 10-month-long 200-million-kilometre journey, is equipped with five instruments.

They include a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and mineral wealth of the planet and a sensor to track methane or marsh gas - a possible sign of life.

The mission will also analyse the thin Martian atmosphere.

India has become the fourth nation or geo-bloc to put a satellite into orbit around Mars.

Only the US, Russia and Europe have previously sent missions to Mars, and India has succeeded on its first attempt - an achievement that eluded even the Americans and the Soviets.