India’s first moon mission to take off on October 22

By Matthias Williams, Reuters

NEW DELHI — India will launch a locally built rocket for the country’s first unmanned mission to the moon on Oct. 22, the head of the project said on Tuesday. “If at all there is any delay, it will be because of the weather, otherwise I don’t foresee any technical difficulties,” M. Annadurai told Reuters.

The launch, earlier scheduled for April but delayed due to technical difficulties, has been given a window between Oct 20 and Oct 28 for takeoff from a southern India town.

Six countries, including the United States, are directly involved in the project, which will cost an estimated 3.86 billion rupees (US$80.8 million).

It aims to map a three-dimensional atlas of the moon through high-resolution remote sensing and map the surface’s chemical and mineral composition.

Despite limited funding, India operates an extensive space program consisting of launch vehicles, satellites and data-processing centers.

India plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014 and a manned mission to moon by 2020. As part of preparations for that, it launched four satellites on a single rocket for the first time in January 2007, including one that was brought back to earth.

India’s space program was launched as a scientific research effort, but has now begun to make money from commercial launches. At least 16 Indian satellites currently orbit the earth, supporting telecommunications, TV broadcasting, earth observation, weather forecasting, remote education and healthcare.

India’s constellation of seven earth-observation satellites is the largest of its kind in the world, but its space program lags behind its Asian rival China, which in 2003 became only the third nation after the United States and the former Soviet Union to launch a man into space aboard its own rocket.

China celebrated the completion of the country’s first spacewalk last month, hailed as a major victory by its leaders.