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Bengaluru group one of five racing for lunar touchdown

Team Indus has entered into a commercial agreement with ISRO’s marketing arm Antrix Corporation for the contest.

isro, isro spacecraft, moon rover, team indus, google, Google Lunar XPRIZE, ISRO Chandrayaan, indian spacecraft on moon, science news, india news, latest news Member of Team Indus with the moon rover. Express Photo

If all goes well, then by the end of this year or in first few days of the next, India could become the fourth country in the world to land a spacecraft on the moon. And Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would have only an incidental role to play in this.

Agroup of amateur space enthusiasts, helped by some retired scientists from ISRO, is in a race with four other teams to land a spacecraft on moon and win a US$ 20 million prize being offered by XPRIZE, a non-profit organisation. The prize is sponsored by Google and hence called Google Lunar XPRIZE.

WATCH VIDEO | ISRO Sets World Record, Successfully Launches PSLV-37 Rocket With Record 104 Satellites Into Orbit

About 15 teams had been initially shortlisted after the competition was announced in 2010. However, by the cut-off date of December 2016, just five were able to find space agencies to launch their spacecraft.

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The Bangalore-based Indian group, named Team Indus, is putting together a spacecraft that it plans to fly on ISRO’s launch vehicle — this is the only connection the space agency has with this mission — in the last week of December. After launch, the spacecraft can take between one and three weeks, depending on the final flight path and other variables, to land on the moon’s surface. The US$ 20 million prize money is meant for the team that is the first one to successfully land its spacecraft on moon, let it travel at least 500 m on the surface, and transmit high definition pictures and videos back to the earth.

The other teams are SpaceIL of Israel, Moon Express of the US, Synergy Moon, a team that has groups working in as many as 15 countries and Team Hakuto of Japan. Team Hakuto has built just a rover that will hitch a ride on the Team Indus spacecraft. Once they exit from the spacecraft, the two rovers will try to outdo each other to fulfill the competition requirements. Launch dates of the teams are not finalised yet, though all of them are set to fly sometime in the second half of this year.

“The date of the launch does not solely decide who lands first on the moon. Many other factors are involved,” says Dilip Chabria, an engineer and one of the four people who started Team Indus in 2010 to participate in XPRIZE.

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ISRO’s Chandrayaan mission in 2008 involved crash-landing of one of the payloads on the moon’s surface, but that is not counted as successful landing. The Chandrayaan-2 mission, slated for the first quarter of next year, will have a rover that will land on the moon. By that time, however, Team Indus would most likely have registered its presence on moon’s surface.

However, Team Indus is already looking at a future beyond the competition, irrespective of its outcome. “Our total mission cost is going to be about US$ 75 million. You can guess we are not here just for the prize money,” says Chabria, adding that his team would like to evolve into a “cutting edge aerospace company”.

Team Indus has entered into a commercial agreement with ISRO’s marketing arm Antrix Corporation for the contest. “The cost to ISRO for a PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) launch is around Rs 90 crore and this is paid by the government. In a commercial launch, the company involved pays the costs,” an ISRO source said.

First published on: 09-02-2017 at 03:39:44 am
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