A team of scientists will get the chance to send their own surface probe to the moon next year thanks to an agreement with the joint Japanese-Indian entrant in Google’s Lunar XPRIZE contest to land a private spacecraft on Earth’s closest neighbor.
Sandip Kumar Chakrabarti, head of the Indian Center for Space Physics in Kolkata, told a group of journalists the probe will weigh four kilograms and be installed on top of TeamIndus‘s lunar lander, scheduled to touch down in December 2017.
The Kolkata probe will include an X-ray detector and four computers that will study outer space from the lunar surface, something that Chakrabarti emphasizes has never been done before.
TeamIndus will be working with India’s space agency ISRO on the launch part of the project using one of the agency’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV), before managing the entire mission privately. The mission will carry “at least two rovers to the moon,” Chakrabarti said.
The craft will enter a 70,000-km orbit from a height of 880 km and circle the Earth 2.5 times.
Each orbit will spiral the craft another 10,000 km away from the earth before executing a TLI — Translunar Injection — to escape the planet’s gravity and send it speeding at 10.3 km/second for a week toward the moon, where it will slow down once within 100 km of the surface.
The whole mission should take 21 days.
Google is offering $30 million to the first team to land on the moon, have a rover travel 500 meters, and transmit back images. They are also offering $5 million for verifiable discoveries on the lunar surface. That could make the Kolkata project critical for the team’s notoriety and its finances.
TeamIndus has raised about $15 million for the $60 million project, a gap that competitors in the contest likely expected. Yet according to tecake.in, they plan to continue raising money to make up for the shortfall.
TeamIndus has a team of 100+ people working on aspects of the project from engineering to marketing. They sport 12 advisors and 11 partners.
Last week, Japan’s entry into the contest Hakuto announced it would hitch a ride on the same lander with TeamIndus, before separating and making an independent effort to rove the lunar surface in January 2018.