Here's a graphic that shows the flight profile of the mission. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will lift it into a highly elliptical parking orbit with a perigee of 248 kilometers and an apogee of 23,000 kilometers. Over a period of about a month, six orbital maneuvers will gradually increase the distance of the apogee. Finally, a seventh maneuver will inject the spacecraft onto a path that will transfer it to Mars. The cruise to Mars will take about ten months; it'll arrive in September or October of 2014. Its orbit at Mars will also be highly elliptical, with a periapsis of 377 kilometers and an apoapsis of 80,000 kilometers. For context, Mars' outer moon Deimos orbits at an altitude of 20,000 kilometers.
The spacecraft carries a small payload of five instruments weighing a total of 15 kilograms. Thescientific goals of the mission are rather unspecific: "Exploration of Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere by indigenous scientific instrument." By "indigenous" they mean "developed in India" -- a departure from their approach with Chandrayaan-1. Science is really a secondary goal on this mission. What this mission is really about is the development of India's capability in space. The technological objectives are the main drivers. ISRO states three objectives:
- Design and realisation of a Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earth bound manoeuvres, cruise phase of 300 days, Mars orbit insertion / capture, and on-orbit phase around Mars.
- Deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management.
- Incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations.