In a first, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has signed a commercial launch contract with an Indian space technology enterprise called TeamIndus. TeamIndus will be working with ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix to launch a rover for the moon as part of Google’s Lunar X competition.
The $30 million competition aimed to “inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.” Google’s competition requires participants to develop a rover that can roam up to 500 metres on the surface of moon and collect data. The operation needs to be 90 per cent privately funded, and the launch contract needs to be secured with a space agency before 2016. The final launch has to take place in 2017.
TeamIndus is the only Indian team in the contest, becoming the fourth one globally to announce a launch contract. A team from Israel and two from US have also made the announcement. A total of 16 teams are in the race so far, and over 30 were shortlisted.
The company has been working with ISRO for the past two years and their Lunar project has been in works since 2012. In 2014, they were awarded a $1 million ‘milestone prize’ by Google for successfully demonstrating a working model of their design. TeamIndus plans to make the launch on December 28, 2017, after conducting three rehearsals. The rover is expected to land on January 28, 2018 in the moon’s northwest region.
“What gave us confidence to dream big when we started on this journey many years back was the heft of the scientific legacy that India, with ISRO, created over decades. This launch contract reaffirms our mission as a truly Indian mission where the best of India’s public and private enterprises have come together to realise a common dream,” said Rahul Narayan, TeamIndus’ Fleet Commander.
“As far as simulation, design and analysis goes, we’re 90 per cent sure of ourselves. Touchdown can be tricky, but I’d say we’re about 75 per cent sure about,” he added. “Recently European Space Agency’s mars rover crashed destroying nearly nine months of their work. ”
“We believe we have an advantage compared to the other teams because we have an indigenous ecosystem available for us thanks to ISRO,” said Narayan at the announcement.
The roughly $60 million dollar project has been built from scratch in India to minimise the cost and overall team of over 100 people, including 20 retired ISRO scientists, have worked on it. The funding rest on several investors, which includes Ratan Tata.
The rover will carry a tricolour flag which will be erected upon its landing on the moon. Though working closely with ISRO for developing and launching the mission, TeamIndus asserts the final mission control for the rover remains with them.