Chennai: India's ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) entered a crucial phase Wednesday with the country's space scientists steering the spacecraft to the red planet's orbit.

After rotating the Orbiter towards Mars, the main engine was fired 24 minutes from Mars to enter the Martian orbit, which will be about 500 km from its surface and 215 million km away from the Earth in radio distance.

The spacecraft will consume about 250 kg of liquid fuel with oxidiser.

The five scientific instruments on board the 475-kg Orbiter will study the Martian surface and its mineral composition and scan its atmosphere for methane gas.

The Rs.450-crore ($70 million) Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched Nov 5, 2013, on board a polar rocket from the country's only spaceport at Sriharikota off the Bay of Bengal, about 80 km northeast of Chennai.

The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is the fourth international space agency after National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US, Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA) and European Space Agency to undertake a mission to Mars.

As the second smallest celestial body in the solar system, Mars is also known as the red planet due to the presence of iron oxide in abundance, giving it a reddish appearance.