India’s upcoming Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) seeks to reveal whether there is methane, considered a “precursor chemical” for life, on the Red Planet, key officials behind the ambitious venture said today.

A Methane Sensor, one of the five payloads (scientific instruments) onboard the spacecraft, would look to detect the presence of the gas, MOM Project Director Arunan S said.

He said the sensor was aimed at understanding whether life existed on Mars or if it would have life in future.

“Methane is fundamentally base for life on any planet,” he said.

M Annadurai, Programme Director, IRS & SSS (Indian Remote Sensing & Small, Science and Student Satellites), said, “Most probably we will be able to answer whether there is presence of Methane. If it’s there, yes; if it’s not, not there. If it’s available, where it’s available“.

After a media preview of the Mars orbiter at ISRO Satellite Centre here, where it is being given final shape, officials of the space agency indicated that the aim is to launch the mission on October 21, weather permitting.

The launch window is from October 21 to November 19.

MOM is a Rs 450 crore mission — Rs 110 crore for building PSLV-C25 that would launch the Rs 150 crore spacecraft, with the remaining amount spent on augmenting ground segment, including those required for deep space communication.

Once launched from the spaceport of Sriharikota, the spacecraft would go around the earth for 20-25 days before embarking on a 9-month voyage to Mars. The minimum life of the spacecraft around Mars is six months but it would certainly outlive it, as similar satellites orbited by other countries have sometimes lasted six-seven years, Arunan said.

Director of ISAC S K Shivakumar and Arunan defended the MOM, saying the thrust is on self-reliance and building technological base for future inter-planetary missions and there is nothing like undertaking the mission on our own, even though there have been similar ventures by other countries in the past.

India’s MOM would look at Mars from a different perspective, Arunan said.

ISRO has addressed many challenges in the coming mission, particularly on communication, navigation, power and propulsion systems.

As there is a communication delay of 20 to 40 minutes, full-scale autonomy has been built into the satellite which means that in the event of contingency the spacecraft would take decisions on its own and put it on safe mode without a ground intervention. The ground segment then can diagnose the problem and correct it.

The spacecraft is slated to be transported to the launch pad on September 27, after the national committee review on September 19 and pre-shipment committee review on September 26, Arunan said.