An aerospace start-up company from Bengaluru is becoming the quintessential launchpad for Indian dreams. TeamIndus in the only Indian entry for the Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP) which will have 16 countries try to land their rovers on the moon and win the coveted $20 million prize money by landing first. The said event is proposed to hit the sky by December 2017 after much delay. ‘All participating teams must be at least 90 percent privately-funded, though reasonable commercial sales to government customers are allowed without any limit. Not only do these teams have to successfully land a rover on the moon, they also need to cover at least 500 metres on the moon’s surface and be able to transmit high definition video and images back to earth,’ said a report.
Run by Axiom Research Labs, TeamIndus is a privately funded space mission with an all-Indian team of 85 young engineers and over 15 ex-ISRO scientists (Indian Space Research Organisation). They have already won a $1 million milestone prize for demonstrating its landing technology thus qualifying them for the final round. With the cost of this mission already crossing over a whopping $60 million according to reports, the team is going guns blazing for the glory.
A report by pc-tablet said, ‘The rover weighing 20 Kgs will be able to carry a 250-gram payload, and is said to launch by July 2017. Rahul Narayan, CEO Team Indus said that it took them five years to conceptualize the project, and they were the only Indian team participating.”
“GLXP is not so much about the prize money, as it is about catalyzing private enterprise in space. Entrepreneurs coming into any sector have helped catalyze that sector--think of how the internet opened up possibilities after originally being a government project. The competition is pushing innovation in the sector. Over time, it will bring down the cost of launching satellites, flying to the moon and other celestial bodies while enhancing our capabilities here on Earth. The future of humankind is interplanetary. We are among a set of companies that are developing unique capabilities which will be increasingly in demand as we go into the future, “said Sheelika Ravishankar, TeamIndus Jedi-Master, Marketing and Outreach Strategy.
Building the rover wasn’t a path of shining stars. Ramnath Babu, TeamIndus Jedi-Master-Operations said the challenge in finding and making the material work for them was a learning experience. “We’ve never built a Spacecraft before and as such had to learn everything we are doing here from scratch. Given that we’ve had to also focus on speed while keep costs low, we’ve built this project using lean and frugal engineering methods. Often, this has meant we’ve had to do away with expensive components and engineer them in-house. For us, these constraints are only a challenge that needs solving, something that our passionate engineers relish,” he said.
He added that the rover was as ‘Make-In-India’ as it could get. “The design for the onboard computer, power management system, the communication systems are all done in-house. However, just like any other space mission, components for all of the systems are being sourced from around the world. The complete integration of the Lander-Rover will be done here. We are writing our own flight and landing software too. The complete mission is indigenous with our young team of engineers working together with former ISRO scientists to design the spacecraft and rover which will be integrated in India,” he said.
ISRO will have to permit the use of their Sriharikota Space Centre to help TeamIndus realize their space mission. Justin Alva, TeamIndus Skywalker- Marketing and Outreach said, “We’re facing a number of challenges on multiple fronts but that again is the case with any moonshot and in our context, a literal one. Given that there isn’t too much publicly available information on performing a moon landing, we’ve pretty much have had to figure it out ourselves. Thankfully, we have the expert advice of ex-ISRO scientists who have built many of India’s most successful missions. This would be the first time an entire launch vehicle is being bought by an Indian private entity. We are working closely together with ISRO to make this a reality. You should hear from us soon,” he said.
To change the Indian head space that will encourage youngsters to take up science is their aim. Through this mission, they want to generate interest in the subject. “Traditionally, STEM education and interest in science and technology has had a huge uptake when space programs and missions are successful. During the 1960’s and 70’s when the ‘space race’ was at its peak the US and USSR saw more students consider a career in STEM. Also, a lot of the advancement you see today is a by-product of them building technology for space which ultimately benefits us on earth. Through our mission, we hope to inspire a new generation of youngsters to take up science and push humanity forward. The technologies we’re building will help India compete in the global space economy,” said Alva.The team is seeking public opinion for a 250 gram payload that will be sent with the rover. The event ‘Lab 2 Moon’ is asking students aged 14-25 years to come up with suggestions and a chance to meet scientists behind the project.
TeamIndus is also developing a program for crowd-funding and looking beyond the horizon for far-reaching objectives. “Making space accessible is the big challenge; bringing down the cost will push more players into the industry and drive innovation. Apart from the current one, we are looking at further missions based on current Spacecraft architecture. The Moon will be a starting point when humankind looks to build colonies elsewhere and bringing down the cost of making that trip would be one of our objectives. There will be several opportunities that will come up as space exploration becomes more enterprise led and we hope to be among the catalysts for that shift,” said Babu.
ISRO’s success in the recent past promises to work well for these budding space junkies.” ISRO scientists are working closely with us to help identify and mitigate risks,” said Ravishankar.
Words: Preksha Malu