A moon-struck start-up from Bengaluru seems finally set on its way to touch down and raise lunar dust thanks to a tie-up with U.S. space agency NASA.
The privately funded TeamIndus is now part of a U.S. consortium that NASA has shortlisted to potentially fly scientific and commercial cargo to the moon over the next 10 years.
In early November, TeamIndus joined the consortium led by OrbitBeyond, a new space transportation company. For now it is the only Indian element in the NASA lunar scheme and has been tasked with doing “lander engineering”.
The homegrown TeamIndus, founded around 2011, was already developing spacecraft and landing systems while contending for a $ 30-million global lunar landing and roving competition. The prize was initiated by Google Lunar XPrize in 2007 but lapsed in January this year when the handful of contenders were not found ready for the trip.
NASA’s latest news is still the very first earthly step for any private player wanting to wing it to the moon. The U.S. space agency plans to resume lunar landing probes — unmanned at first — around 2019-20.
On November 29, the agency named nine industry partners as eligible to bid for its high value lunar contracts in the coming years. Among them are start-ups (similar to TeamIndus), who are bidding on their own; and established defence and aerospace names such as Lockheed Martin.
The new and evolving “cislunar” (lunar-orbit) contest is tough as eight other small and big aspirants (other than OrbitBeyond) are also eligible to bid for contracts.
On joining the consortium, TI founder and leader Rahul Narayan had tweeted, “We continue to be #MoonBound.” However, TeamIndus did not wish to go into details, telling The Hindu that it did not have all details yet and because the announcement itself is in early stages.
Announcing the eligible bidders, NASA said its prospective “Commercial Lunar Payload Services [CLSP] contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts with a combined maximum contract value of $ 2.6 billion during the next 10 years.”
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was quoted as saying the lunar goal would build steps to bigger missions to Mars. The agency said these early lunar missions would demonstrate important technologies that will in turn lead to the making of “future landers and other exploration systems needed for humans to return to the lunar surface, and help prepare the agency to send astronauts to explore Mars.”
Lunar payloads could fly on these contracted missions as early as 2019. It had invited proposals in October for experiments that could be sent to moon and expects them to come in by January 2019.
OrbitBeyond has said NASA's vision for habiting the moon will attract private players, planetary scientists and space engineering companies to invest massively in the cislunar industry. It estimates the market to surpass $3 billion a year in five to seven years.