Is the Google Lunar X Prize Kaput?

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

It appears highly likely that the decade-old Google Lunar X Prize will end on March 31 without a winner following reports out of India that Team Indus has pulled out of the race. The Ken reports that

The launch contract that TeamIndus signed with Antrix Corporation—the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)—in December 2016, in pursuit of its $30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE goal, has been cancelled. Multiple sources within Isro confirmed the news….

Conservatively speaking, the price tag for the PSLV chartered launch alone is said to be upwards of $20 million; the cost of building and testing the moon rover is several million more. It’s learnt TeamIndus couldn’t pony up funds to pay Antrix beyond the initial signing amount. “Isro has cancelled the contract for a lack of compliances and payment issues,” says a person who is close to these developments. He says, “Rahul [Narayan, co-founder TeamIndus] has spoken to all on the floor recently and informed all of Isro’s decision of pulling out of the mission”. TeamIndus did not respond to questions sent by email. Without denying the news, a spokesperson for the company said, “As a company, we’d not comment on this”.


Potential Snag for Team Indus Bid to Win Google Lunar X Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

There are some potential snags for Team Indus and Team HAKUTO in their efforts to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Team Indus and a Japanese team, Hakuto, are contracted to fly on ISRO’s PSLV XL rocket on December 28, 2017, three days before the closure of the deadline for the Google X Prize contest. The two teams will share the nearly $30 million commercial cost for the launch.

“The necessary approvals for launch of the Team Indus moon mission has not yet concluded. An MoU was signed last year by Antrix Corporation and Team Indus. The launch service has to be authorised by the government and the approval process is going on,” Antrix chairman and managing director Rakesh Sasibhushan said. Sources in ISRO said the MoU is under scrutiny and various questions are being asked about the nature of the launch, the Google Lunar X Prize competition and intellectual property issues involved.

“We have not heard of any questions being raised by the government. We have a launch contract that was signed last year,’’ Team Indus leader Rahul Narayan said when contacted. A private company, Axiom Research Labs Ltd, is the start-up that created Team Indus.

The mission is expected to cost Team Indus in the range of $70 million to build its moon rover and spacecraft from scratch and to launch it to the moon. The venture has received the backing of the likes of Ratan Tata, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, TVS Group’s Venu Srinivasan, stock market investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and many tech sector start-up investors.

There are still a lot of questions about Team Indus. Is the hardware ready? Do the full amount to pay for the mission? Can they really rely on ISRO to launch on time given the many delays in the agency’s schedule?

And here’s one for the Google Lunar X Prize: how does a MoU counts as a verified launch contract? Were you guys accepting anything to keep the prize alive?


India to Launch 68 Smallsats

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

India’s launch services are attracting more customers:

Antrix, the commercial arm of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), is planning to send into orbit 68 small satellites from countries across the world early next year.

“These 68 small satellites will be riding on our workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in the next six months,” said S Rakesh, chairman and managing director of Antrix, while announcing the 5th edition of Bengaluru Space Expo (BSX-2016).

“Antrix has been attracting the world’s attention for low-cost and flawless launch capabilities of satellites,” he added.

Read the full story.

FAA Backs Ban on U.S. Satellite Launches on Indian Rockets

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

Space News reports on disagreements within the U.S. government about whether to allow American companies to launch satellites aboard Indian rockets.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) endorsed an advisory committee’s recommendation that commercial U.S. satellites continue to be barred from using the PSLV.


FAA Releases Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation

faa_compendium_2016The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2016

Executive Summary

The size of the global space industry, which combines satellite services and ground equipment, government space budgets, and global navigation satellite services (GNSS) equipment, is estimated to be about $324 billion. At $95 billion in revenues, or about 29 percent, satellite television represents the largest segment of activity. Following this is government space budgets at $76 billion, or 24 percent, and services enabled by GNSS represent, about $76 billion in revenues. Commercial satellite remote sensing companies generated on $1.6 billion in revenues, but the value added services enabled by these companies is believed to be magnitudes larger. Because remote sensing value added services includes imagery and data analytics from other sources beyond space-based platforms, only the satellite remote sensing component is included in the global space industry total.


PlanetiQ to Launch on India’s PSLV Rocket

Credit: PlanetiQ
Credit: PlanetiQ

BOULDER, Colo., Dec. 3, 2015 (PlanetiQ PR) — PlanetiQ has signed a contract with Antrix Corporation Limited, the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), for the launch of PlanetiQ’s first two weather satellites on a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) during the fourth quarter of 2016. Ten more satellites are planned for launch in 2017 to complete an initial set of 12 satellites that will dramatically improve global weather forecasting, climate monitoring and space weather prediction, and enable advanced analytics for numerous industries worldwide.


ISRO Looks to Private Sector

PSLV rocket lifts off with India's Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)
PSLV rocket lifts off with India’s Mars Orbiter Mission. (Credit: ISRO)

India’s space agency is looking to hand off more duties to the private sector:

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to magnify the role of its industry partners by starting joint ventures with them and readying them to do entire tasks like satellite launches, its Chairman AS Kiran Kumar has said.

The agency has sounded out its commercial arm, Antrix Corporation, to explore such opportunities for specific projects. Internal teams are being formed to draft a plan, he told The Hindu in a recent interview.

For one, Antrix might form ventures with public or private entities that had already been supplying for the space programme. The extent of financing and equity would be decided later. “We hope to have a clear picture in about a year. We have asked Antrix to identify industries and requirements and have initiated discussions internally,” said Mr. Kiran Kumar, who is also Secretary of the Department of Space.

One reason is the backlog of communication satellites that urgently need indigenous GSLV launchers to put them in space. In mid-May, the government sanctioned 15 smaller PSLV launchers, worth Rs. 3,090 crore, which would be built during 2017-20. The ISRO now plans to do two GSLV launches, one commercial and two to three PSLV launches in a year, all requiring intensive engagement with the industry.

ISRO to Release Investigative Reports That Resulted in Disciplinary Actions

G. Madhavan Nair

After exhausting all its bad options, ISRO is actually going to do the right thing:

Dr. K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO and Secretary, Department of Space stated that the Department is in the process of getting necessary clearances for releasing the Reports of the two Committees viz. (a) the High Powered Review Committee set up by Government on February 10, 2011 (with Shri B.K. Chaturvedi and Prof. Roddam Narasimha as Members), and (b) the High Level Team set up by Government on May 31, 2011 (chaired by Shri Pratyush Sinha) to examine various aspects of the ANTRIX-DEVAS Agreement of January 2005.



Ex-ISRO Chairman Nair, 3 Others Banned From Gov’t Work Over Antrix-Devas Deal

G. Madhavan Nair

ISRO’s former chairman and three other officials have been disciplined for their roles in the controversial Antrix-Devas Multimedia S-band deal:

In an unprecedented disciplinary action, four of the biggest names in the space community, including former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair, have been barred from occupying any government position — current or in future — for their role in the Antrix-Devas deal, in which a private company was accused to have been wrongfully allotted S-band frequencies for radio waves.


India: Committee Completes Probe of Antrix-Devas Deal, Investigations Launched

A  high-level committee has completed a probe into the controversial satellite deal between ISRO’s Antrix commercial arm and Davas Multimedia, according to Indian press reports. Investigations are being carried out based on the team’s review.

The five-member body, appointed in May by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, was asked to investigate how the deal was made and to identify any acts of “omission and commission” by the government officials who approved it.


Singh Orders New Inquiry into Antrix-Devas Multimedia Deal

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Credit: Agencia Brasil

Beset by allegations of corruption, cronyism and unaccountability, beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has ordered a second investigation into the controversial Antrix-Devas Multimedia spectrum deal that has convulsed Indian politics. The goal of this inquiry: to find someone to blame for this whole mess. Who? Anyone but the prime minister.

Press Trust of India reports:

[The] new inquiry by former Central Vigilance Commissioner Pratyush Sinha….has been set up in pursuance to the recommendations of the BK Chaturvedi committee that went into the technical, commercial, procedural and financial aspects of the agreement between ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix and Devas. The Sinha Committee has been asked to look into matters of individual culpability and fix responsibility, if any and submit a report by July end, the sources said.


ISRO Update: GSLV Investigation, Chandrayaan-2 Downscope, Antrix Reform

A few updates on ISRO concerning rocket development and reforms of the space agency’s commercial arm, Antrix Corp., in the wake of two GSLV failures and a spectrum allocation scandal. It seems that the murky Indian space world will become just a bit clearer. And that delays in rocket development will force a down scoping and delay of the agency’s next lunar mission.