"The point is we don't have the sound technological base for a car, forget about a fighter jet," said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.
The mission plans to study the Martian surface and mineral composition as well as search the atmosphere for methane, the chemical strongly tied to life on Earth. Recent measurements by NASA's rover, Curiosity, show only trace amounts of it on Mars.
India's space program has drawn criticism in a country that is dogged by poverty and power shortages, and is now experiencing its sharpest economic slowdown in a decade.
India has long argued that technology developed in its space program has practical applications to everyday life.
(Read more: Millionaire spaceflier eyes 2018 Mars mission)
"For a country like India, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity," said Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit, India's first private space start-up. She argued that satellites have applications from television broadcasting to weather forecasting for disaster management.
The mission is considerably cheaper than some of India's more lavish spending schemes, including a $340 million plan to build the world's largest statue in the state of Gujarat.
Analysts say India could capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology. The probe's 4.5 billion rupee ($73 million) price tag is a fraction of the cost of NASA's MAVEN mission due to launch this month.
ISRO designed the craft to go around Earth six or seven times to build up the momentum needed to slingshot it to Mars, a measure that will help it save fuel, said Mayank N. Vahia, a scientist in the department of astronomy and astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.
It costs India about 1,000 rupees ($16.20) to put a gram weight into space, less than a tenth of NASA's cost, he said.
India's space program still has challenges, including the need to import components and the lack of a deep space monitoring system which means it will rely on the United States to watch the satellite once it nears Mars.
(Read more: Mars had the right stuff for life, scientists find)
There's much at stake in the global space business, where revenues for the satellite industry in 2012 was $189.5 billion, according to the U.S. Satellite Industry Association.
"Given ISRO's broad portfolio of space capabilities, India could, if it does things right, get at least a quarter of (the space industry) market if not more in the coming decade or two," said Earth2Orbit's Mohanty.
India's relations with its giant neighbor China are marked as much by competition as cooperation, and analysts say New Delhi has stepped up its space program because of concerns about China's civilian and military space technology.
"The reality is that there is competition in Asia. There's the angle of the potential space race," said Rajagopalan.
Although India's program is largely for peaceful purposes, it has increasingly realized the need to grow its deterrence capability after China's 2007 anti-satellite missile test.
"That was a wake-up call for India," said Rajagopalan. "Until then we were taking it easy."
China's space program is far ahead of India's, with bigger rockets, more launches and equally cost-effective missions.
Officials dismissed the suggestion that India raced to prepare Tuesday's launch to trump China's failed attempt at Mars.
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"We're not in a race with anybody," said ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik, noting that the voyage can happen only every 26 months, when the spacecraft can travel the shortest distance between Earth and Mars.
"The mission to Mars has to be organized whenever there is an opportunity available."