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Spending $80M to Win $20M: TeamIndus and their Moon Journey

Bad business in space - “Doesn’t it cost far more than $20 million to land on the moon?’’

In his writings online, Team Lead of TeamIndus, Rahul Narayan muses, “Why does TeamIndus want to go to the Moon? …Why should India do what was done many decades ago by the United States and USSR? In any case, why is a private company stepping into the domain of national space agencies?”

The Google Lunar XPRIZE mission was announced in 2007, a challenge to design and land a spacecraft on the Moon. There’s a 20 million dollar grand prize for the spacecraft that travels more than 500 meters on the lunar surface and transmits high definition images and video to Earth.

The leadership team of TeamIndus includes Rahul Narayan, Vivek Raghavan, Sheelika Ravishankar, Dhruv Batra, Ramnath Babu, Sameer Joshi, Dilip Chabria and Julius Amrit. TeamIndus has a total team 120 and nearly 12 retired ISRO scientists.

There are five teams remaining: two American teams, one Israeli, and a Japanese team relying on TeamIndus to deliver their rover to the Moon.

Sheelika Ravishankar, Jedi Master for marketing and outreach says, “At this point Israel’s SpaceIL and TeamIndus appear to be leading the Google Lunar XPRIZE shortlisted teams…while there are many things that need to come together over the next few months, we are optimistic we can be the first team to make this happen.”

The mission is backed by the likes of Ratan Tata, Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Sachin and Binny Bansal of Flipkart, and Subrata Mitra of Accel Partners. TeamIndus has also engaged with several startups – Zomato and InMobi amongst others. July 2017, TeamIndus said they are raising another 40 million dollars through payload sales, corporate sponsorships and other mass engagement programs.

It was never about the destination. This program will not recover investments even if they win the Grand Prize. On its website the Google Lunar XPRIZE admin team discuss this under a FAQ, “Doesn’t it cost far more than $20 million to land on the moon?’’, to which the response is, “The Google Lunar XPRIZE teams are estimating their complete missions will cost between $5 Million and $80 Million including launch, soft landing on the Moon and surface operations...”

For all parties concerned, the Money and the Moon are merely symbolic of the great potential privatisation of the aerospace sector holds.

“When we embarked on this mission, we were clear that our participation in the Google Lunar XPRIZE was not so much about the prize money as it was about catalysing private enterprise in space in the country,” Narayan inks in that same article.

TeamIndus is operated by Axiom Research Labs, a startup looking to create value for shareholders. The Moon Mission has little possibility for profitability and has consumed over six years of effort. But Narayan considers Space as infrastructure. Everything changes then.

“The moment you classify space as infrastructure, the massive investments that are required to make it all happen starts making sense… space will provide returns and will keep on giving for a long time, and with minimal maintenance…,” Narayan muses in another article.

“I believe we haven’t scratched the surface when it comes to possibilities yet unexplored. The addition of value to the space GDP will come from several sources - some old, some from renewal of old ideas and some brand new thinking. These include evolution of existing services like next generation GPS, wide area WiFi and Space based weather prediction as well as introduction of new services like space-debris removal. Add to that space tourism of the Virgin Galactic ilk, evolution of Skybox-Terra Bella type services, renewed interest in Exo-Biology, and research into sustainable multi planetary life.”

Come 31 March 2018, TeamIndus’ spacecraft could be among the first private funded space missions heading for the Moon. Maybe they will win, maybe they won’t. But because of TeamIndus’ ambitions, generations of Indian entrepreneurs present and future, will know there is no dream too big that should ever be denied a serious shot.


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Google Lunar XPrize TeamIndus aerospace startup

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