Indian Mars probe crosses Moon's orbit

Image caption The spacecraft is due to reach Mars on 24 September next year

India's spacecraft to Mars has crossed the Moon's orbit on its way to the red planet, space authorities said.

The Mangalyaan craft is now "travelling beyond the moon into deep space", space officials added.

On Sunday the spacecraft fired its main engine for more than 20 minutes, giving it the correct velocity to leave Earth's orbit.

It will now cruise for 680m km (422m miles), setting up an encounter with its target on 24 September 2014.

The Mars Orbiter Mission is designed to demonstrate the technological capability to reach Mars orbit.

But the $72m (£45m) probe will also carry out experiments, including a search for methane gas in the planet's atmosphere.

Indian Space Research Organisation officials said the spacecraft had crossed the Moon's orbit on Monday night.

"The Mars Orbiter spacecraft has crossed the Moon orbit [and] is now travelling beyond the Moon. This is the first time an Indian-made object is being sent into deep space," ISRO officials told the NDTV news channel.

Since its launch on 5 November, the craft has progressively raised its orbit around Earth with a series of engine burns.

The manoeuvres were all successful apart from the fourth, carried out on 11 November, during which a problem with the liquid fuel thruster caused the MOM to fall short of the mark.

But Isro has made plans for the eventuality that changes need to be made to the 1,350kg spacecraft's course.

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