MOON SHOT: TeamIndus takes a shot at the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE
“TeamIndus feels that there are only a few teams who have demonstrated capabilities. Moon Express and Synergy Moon from the United States, Space IL from Israel are some such teams and they are their serious competition in the contest. These teams have all managed to get a launch contract and TeamIndus is hoping to sign one soon with ISRO”
BW Disrupt’s Correspondent Soumya Gupta, interacted with the founding members of TEAM INDUS- Rahul Narayan, Dilip Chabria & Sheelika Ravishankar about engineering path-breaking solutions that take on critical challenges for humanity.
Rahul first heard about GLXP during a video conference with one of his American customers who happened to be working with one of the GLXP teams. He was amazed by the magnitude of competition which was catalyzing private enterprise in space. But it was surprising to find out that there was no Indian team participating in this one-of-a-kind venture. Driven by the challenge and eager to put India on the global space map, Rahul & his team researched as much as they could and ended up registering on the very last day, December 31st 2010.
For a team which had absolutely no background in aerospace when they started off, they now comprise nearly 85 engineers and about 12 retired ISRO scientists. The mission is to make space accessible; bring down the cost which will push more players into the industry and drive innovation. Apart from the current GLXP competition, 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 their 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
Their journey wasn’t an easy one, it started with a number of challenges on multiple fronts but that again is the case with any moonshot and in our context, a literal one. The initial constraint was getting the right information and chalking the way forward. 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, they got the expert advice of ex-ISRO scientists who have built many of India’s most successful missions. However, it was Dr. Kasturirangan who was among the first to encourage us and believe that we were doing something which was achievable.
Commenting about the investment, Rahul said, “We have raised only a fraction of the total investment needed to make this happen. This is a space mission and even with frugal engineering, it’s expensive. Most of our money will go towards building of the spacecraft and paying for the rocket launcher. “
When asked how Team Indus functions like a multi-disciplinary start up, Dilip explained the business model and space services in detail. He said, “Imagining, designing and building a Moon mission is certainly a multi-disciplinary project; an intersection of many different branches of science and engineering. Working on the Moon mission certainly has helped us build capabilities across various aspects of space services. Currently a huge shift is underway whereby private enterprise is pushing farther into space than ever before. We are talking about a market opportunity worth hundreds of billions of dollars. We are readying our own offerings for that market - from satellites to stratospheric platforms.”
The Team Indus feels that there are only a few teams who have demonstrated capabilities and have also managed to get their hands on a launch contract. Moon Express and Synergy Moon from the United States, Space IL from Israel are some such teams and they are their serious competition in the contest.
Dilip also explained how their mission could not be success without the enthusiasm of their partners who showed tremendous co-operation on every step. He said, “We have an agreement with Tata Communications who will help us with connectivity to our ground stations around the world through a low latency network. There is Sasken who are our embedded systems partner. We work very closely with Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics, Colorado. There are plenty more, but the one thing that connects everyone has been passion they showed towards TeamIndus. “
To get some more perspective, Sheelika Ravishankar, the Outreach Strategy expert spoke about the ups and downs they encountered while making their entry to the Google Lunar XPRIZE. She said, “The genesis of TeamIndus came from the sheer fact that there was lack of representation from India. Instead of waiting for someone else to come forth, we took on this mantle. Like all start-ups, we’ve had our share of challenges and wins. Sure, it has been a challenge putting together a team and convincing cynics, but a mission like this attracts some of the most passionate and committed individuals including retired ISRO scientists who have been an integral part of many Indian missions. We have beaten long odds to come this far, credibly demonstrating capabilities and leading the way on the international stage.”
She further added, “In January 2015, we were awarded $1 million Terrestrial Milestone Prize, an indication that we were on our course with our technological progress. The fact TeamIndus continues to thrive is a testimony to initiatives like ours being the need of the hour. “
Sheelika explained that their biggest challenge is that they have never built a Spacecraft before and as such have to learn everything while they are doing here from scratch. Given that they have to also focus on speed while keep costs low, they constantly monitor and ensure that this project is built using lean and frugal engineering methods. Often, these means have to do away with expensive components and engineer them in-house. On the positive side, their passionate team considers these constraints as only a challenge that needs solving, something that our engineers thoroughly relish.
On being asked about the product, she gladly revealed, “Ours is a product start-up and the $1 million that we won in 2015 when we demonstrated our technology to land the spacecraft on the moon is in some ways the first round of funding. Product start-ups, especially in aerospace have longer gestation periods considering that we work at the cutting edge of technology. That means that it is not for investors looking to make a quick buck. But as companies like SpaceX have shown, the upside is huge for companies that take the bull by the horn and demonstrate their capabilities.”
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