Indian media is reporting that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been approached by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to partner with NASA in a proposed robotic mission to the lunar South Pole region.
The robotic mission is called MoonRise and is one of three candidate missions to be chosen later this year as part of NASA's New Frontiers program. Other candidates include a mission to Venus and another to an asteroid. Previous missions under the New Frontier program include New Horizons, currently in route to Pluto, and JUNO, which would orbit Jupiter.
MoonRise, if selected by NASA, would land in the South Pole Aitkin Basin on the lunar surface with the primary mission of collecting at least a kilogram of rock and soil samples and returning them to Earth for further analysis. The SPA Basin is considered scientifically significant as it is the result of an ancient impact by an asteroid, one of the largest and oldest in the Solar System. It would provide a window into the history of lunar impacts stretching back four billion years.
According to NASA, MoonRise's over all science goals include:
"Determine the SPA Basin impact chronology.
"Investigate processes associated with formation of large impact basins.
"Investigate the materials excavated from the deeper crust and possibly the mantle of the Moon within the SPA Basin.
"Determine the rock types and distribution of thorium and implications for the Moon's thermal evolution.
"Sample and analyze basaltic rock and volcanic glass, which record the composition and chemical evolution of the Moon's far-side mantle beneath the SPA Basin."
If chosen as the next New Frontiers mission, the MoonRise probe would launch from the Kennedy Space Center in October 2016, for a slow, spiral trajectory that would take it to the moon by March 2017. The portion of MoonRise containing the lunar sample would return to Earth in August 2017.
India's role in the mission would be to launch a lunar orbiter similar to the Chandrayaan-I. The lunar orbiter would provide an overall analysis of the MoonRise landing site as well as conduct a further remote examination of the Moon during a planned five year mission.
The NASA portion of the mission is designed to cost no more than $700 million, exclusive of launch costs. The Indian lunar orbiter would cost about $150 million.