India has successfully launched its first lunar mission, marking a new step in the fast-developing Asian space race.

There were cheers in mission control as the unmanned lunar orbiting spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 was launched with an Indian-built rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on the south-eastern coast.

Officials said the lift-off, which took place in cloudy skies at 6.22am Indian time, was a great success, with the rocket placing the craft into a transfer orbit around the globe within 19 minutes.

‘Our scientific community has once again done the country proud and the entire nation salutes them,’ India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message.

The head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Madhavan Nair, said it was a historic moment for the country.

ISRO is sending the Chandrayaan-1 on a two-year orbital mission to provide a detailed map of the mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics of the moon's surface.

It is expected to reach lunar orbit in 15 days.

India is hoping the mission will boost its space programme into the same league as regional powerhouses Japan and China.

As well as looking to carve out a larger slice of the lucrative commercial satellite launch market, India, Japan and China also see their space programmes as an important symbol of their international stature and economic development.