India’s first private moon mission next year

TeamIndus, a Bengaluru-based private aerospace company, has said it will send a spacecraft to the moon on December 28, 2017, aboard an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket.

The mission’s aim is to land this spacecraft on the moon, have it travel at least 500 metres and beam high- definition video, images and data back to the earth. Were it to be successful, it would likely pip ISRO’s proposed moon-lander mission — Chandrayaan 2 — that is yet to formally announce a launch date. In 2008, Chandrayaan 1 became the first Indian space mission to send a spacecraft that circled the moon.

Except for the launch vehicle, all of the technology that will power the rover and lander is developed in-house by TeamIndus.

TeamIndus has high-profile investors, including Ratan Tata of the Tata Group; Sachin and Binny Bansal, co-founders of Flipkart and Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys Ltd, and is a 100-member team of engineers, space enthusiasts, former Air Force pilots and former ISRO employees. It is one of the four international teams — and the only one from India — in the running for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million (approx. Rs. 200 crore) competition, to encourage private companies to launch space missions.

Two U.S.-based companies, Moon Express and Synergy Moon and one Israeli company — SPACE 1 L — have so far announced agreements with space-launch-vehicle companies such as SpaceX. Other than technical requirements, the prize rules also require that companies be 90% privately funded.

Early bird

The launch agreements are a prerequisite to be in the reckoning for the prize and also require contenders to launch their vehicles before December 28, 2017. TeamIndus is the only one so far to have announced a firm launch date at a press conference on Thursday here.

“We are delighted to officially verify TeamIndus’ launch contract,” said Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director, Google Lunar XPRIZE, said in a press statement. Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, with whom TeamIndus signed an agreement, declined to comment.

Rahul Narayan, TeamIndus’ Fleet Commander said ISRO’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) would launch the spacecraft in a three-day window centred on December 28 next year and, after completing a rotation around the earth, will ideally land in 21 days at Mare Imbrium, a region in the North-Western hemisphere of the Moon.

The mission requires $60 million (approx. Rs. 450 crore) and company officials say they have so far tied in $15 million (approx. Rs. 100 crore) as equity funding. They hope to make up the rest of the money, through 2017, by leasing out spare space in the spacecraft for organisations wanting to conduct experiments and also through crowd-funding. “Rest assured, we will have the money for the launch,” said Mr. Narayan

Sridhar Ramasubban, who leads Business Development and Partnerships, said that TeamIndus saw itself as a “complete” aerospace company. “We’d like to be a company with competence in all parts of the space business, except, for now, building launch vehicles. That would include building satellites, rovers, space applications…Winning the prize is only a part of our mission.”

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2022 5:36:48 am |