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TeamIndus' moon mission dream dashed

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An artistic illustration of the Moon mission.

BENGALURU (PTI): Indian space startup TeamIndus' moon mission dream has been dashed after Google Lunar XPRIZE brought the curtains down on US$ 30 million prize competition, saying all the five finalists in the race to land a rover on the lunar surface could not meet the March 31, 2018 deadline.

City-based TeamIndus was the only Indian team among the finalists in pursuit of the grand prize of US$ 30 million that required privately funded teams to land their spacecraft on the surface of the moon, travel 500 metres and broadcast high definition video, images and data back to Earth.

"...we announce that after consulting our teams over the last few months, that there will not be a launch by March 31st, 2018, and our grand prize will go unclaimed. We are exploring a number of ways to proceed, to continue to support our teams," Google Lunar XPRIZE tweeted.

A statement on its website said due to "the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed."

Hours after the announcement, TeamIndus on Wednesday terminated mutually the launch services agreement signed between it and the Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

"Antrix and Teamlndus are mutually terminating the launch services agreement signed in 2016," a release signed by Antrix Chairman cum Managing Director Rakesh Sasibhushan said, making the official announcement after weeks of speculation over the fate of the much-hyped mission.

TeamIndus said, "We have formally, amicably and mutually closed our Launch services agreement with Antrix. We continue to look towards Antrix and ISRO as our preferred partners of choice for all our future endeavours." It said it had been in talks in the past few weeks with Google Lunar XPrize and expressed its inability to meet the March 31, 2018 deadline, indicating the mission is over.

Both Antrix and TeamIndus did not cite any reason for the termination of the agreement under which ISRO was to have launched TeamIndus' 600 kg spacecraft on its moon mission using its workhorse rocket PSLV from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

PSLV would have injected the spacecraft into an orbit 800 km above the surface of the Earth on its moon mission.

TeamIndus spacecraft was to have taken 4 kg Japanese Hakutos rover on it to the moon with its own indigenously designed and developed robotic rover.

"We respect the decision by the organisers to not extend the competition deadline any further and thank them for having created an unique platform that unleashed innovation, created newer technologies and drew in teams from various backgrounds to solve problems of enabling human exploration beyond the Earth orbit," TeamIndus said in a separate statement.

Thanking partners and supporters over the seven-year journey, TeamIndus said, "We are working closely with all of them to ascertain their role as we expand our horizons and work on repeatedly delivering increased capacity, precision of payload to the Moon.

"More details on our next phase of evolution coming up later this week." An international panel of judges from the Google Lunar XPRIZE who were in Bengaluru in October to review the moon mission plan of TeamIndus had then said the team has made "substantial progress" and was in the "right direction".

On the launch schedule, TeamIndus Fleet Commander Rahul Narayan had said earlier that they were hopeful of completing the mission in next three to six months.

The deadline for the completion of mission fixed by the Google Lunar XPRIZE is March 31 this year.

On investments, Narayan had said the total cost of the programme was expected to be around Rs 450 crore, out which more than half had been collected and spent, adding that, for the rest talks were on with sponsors and others interested in spending on the mission.

Ratan Tata, Nandan Nilekani (Infosys), Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal (Flipkart) and Venu Srinivasan (TVS Group) and K Kasturirangan (former ISRO chief), among others, are supporting TeamIndus as its advisers.

Other than TeamIndus, the other four finalist teams who have verified launch contracts are SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (USA), Synergy Moon (International) and HAKUTO (Japan).

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