Space Age: How Team Indus is aiming for a moonshot from a Bangalore factory
A visit to their research lab, on the extreme outskirts of Bangalore in Jakkur, you can tell they have been frugal with their spending. A humble campus with a quintessential characteristic of a refurbished factory premise is minimalistic and suave inside
Who could have thought that space research and exploration can be a startup idea! A subject typically handled by a government-owned authority – India’s ISRO and USA’s NASA for instance! However come March 2018, India will have a home grown startup – Team Indus – launch a rover to the moon.
Team Indus is a privately funded non-profit organisation. It was founded in 2011 by space enthusiast Rahul Narayan after he enrolled for Google’s Lunar XPrize. Google's Lunar XPrize is a competitive program that challenges privately funded space research teams across the world to land a rover on the moon. The launch window for the competition is between Dec 28 and March 2018. The earlier deadline to launch the moon flight was December 2017.
The contest requires teams to soft-land a rover on the Moon's surface, race it for 500 meters, and send back photos. The feat, if achieved, is truly a moonshot, considering that only three nations have so far successfully soft-landed on the Moon – USA’s Surveyor One and USSR’s Luna 9 in 1966 besides China’s Chang'e-3 in 2013.
The Google XPrize jury, which was in Bangalore to kick off the assessment process, gave thumbs up to the soft-landing tests and other requisite parameters. Team Indus is now short of launching the rover and completing the mission successfully to win the coveted USD 30 million in reward, a much needed booster for an 'expensive hobby' as space research.
Inside the factory of Team Indus
According to Narayan, the total cost of the project is Rs 450 crore, of which about half has already been raised and deployed. The team, which is backed by the likes of Nandan Nilekini, Ratan Tata, Sachin Bansal, and Binny Bansal, is in talks with other investors to cover the remaining cost. Team Indus had also won USD 1 million from Google XPrize for demonstrating its landing technology in 2015.
“Like any other startup we are also capital hungry. We have had a fairly good journey, we have built the capabilities. Hopefully we will see good interest from investors,” Narayan said.
A visit to their research lab, on the extreme outskirts of Bangalore in Jakkur, you can tell they have been frugal with their spending. A humble campus with a quintessential characteristic of a refurbished factory premise is minimalistic and suave inside. A perfect backdrop to a life-size replica of the 600 kg payload built by Team Indus that stands tall right beside the entrance!
Inside India’s national flag can be seen fluttering in a huge warehouse-style workstation section. One thing’s for sure, it’s a patriotic lot! It’s the kind of patriotism that takes pride in unfurling the national flag for a feat that the whole world will capture, and is not dependent on singing national anthem verbatim over and over again.
The team’s focus is on a single point – “Put your heads down and not rest until we reach the Moon,” Narayan says.
Behind him is a dark and deep rectangular room, with what looks like a recreation of the surface of the Moon, at the far end. Only a stream of light from a window above is flowing in, so you can see the equations scribbled on the floor carpet. A thing of the movies, you say? Wait till the room gives way to a huge hall, much like those in space movies, housing the original prototype of the rover.
Keeping fingers crossed
If you wish, you can be part of the mission once the team opens up its public participation platform. With a command center mimicking a large space control center, with screen walls et al, the experience is bound to be fascinating.
But the question is whether a rover built by amateur space enthusiasts really work in the harshest of conditions of outer space? The Google XPrize jury sure thinks it will. “We took a detailed look at the mission plan and the methodologies being employed to gauge the progress of the lunar mission. We have come away from this rigorous exercise impressed by the readiness of Team Indus. They are clearly on the right trajectory to make history,” a noted name in space research and chairman of the panel, Professor Alan Wells said.
Team Indus will launch the rover with the help of ISRO’s launch vehicle PSLV-XL, from Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota. The launcher will inject the spacecraft into Earth’s orbit, which will then sling into Moon’s orbit after a series of orbital manoeuvres. ISRO’s Chandrayaan-2 too is slated to be launched during the same duration as Team Indus' rover in 2018.
Whether this Bangalore startup will be able to achieve its moonshot, only time will email@example.com