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Isro's quest to find a trillion-dollar nuclear fuel on the Moon Isro will

New Delhi: India's space program wants to go where no nation has gone before — to the south side of the moon. And once it gets there, it will study the potential for mining a source of waste-free nuclear energy that could be worth trillions of dollars.

The nation's equivalent of NASA will
launch a rover in October
to explore virgin territory on the lunar surface and analyze crust samples for signs of water and helium-3. That isotope is limited on Earth yet so abundant on the moon that it theoretically could meet global energy demands for 250 years if harnessed.

"The countries which have the capacity to bring that source from the moon to Earth will dictate the process," said K Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. "I don't want to be just a part of them, I want to lead them."

The mission would solidify India's place among the fleet of explorers racing to the moon, Mars and beyond for scientific, commercial or military gains. The governments of the US, China, India, Japan and Russia are competing with startups and billionaires Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to launch satellites, robotic landers, astronauts and tourists into the cosmos.

The rover landing is one step in an envisioned series for Isro that includes putting a space station in orbit and, potentially, an Indian crew on the moon. The government has yet to set a timeframe.

"We are ready and waiting," said Sivan, an aeronautics engineer who joined Isro in 1982. "We've equipped ourselves to take on this particular program."

China is the only country to put a lander and rover on the moon this century with its Chang'e 3 mission in 2013. The nation plans to return later this year by sending a probe to the unexplored far side.

In the US, President Donald Trump signed a directive calling for astronauts to return to the moon, and NASA's proposed $19 billion budget this fiscal year calls for launching a lunar orbiter by the early 2020s.

Isro's estimated budget is less than a 10th of that — about $1.7 billion — but accomplishing feats on the cheap has been a hallmark of the agency since the 1960s. The upcoming mission will cost about $125 million – or less than a quarter of Snap Inc co-founder Evan Spiegel's compensation last year, the highest for an executive of a publicly traded company, according to the Bloomberg Pay Index.

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