By Anusha Bhagat
Bengaluru-based TeamIndus is one of the five teams selected from across the world to compete in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. Kicked off in 2007, this $30-million international competition aims to challenge and inspire engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.
The XPRIZE saga
To win the competition, a privately-funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon by December 31, 2017. This robot must explore at least 500 metres and transmits high-definition videos and images back to the earth. The first team that successfully completes this mission will be awarded the $20-million Grand Prize. The second team to successfully complete the mission will be awarded $5 million. While TeamIndus is the sole finalist from India, the other four teams that have qualified are Moon Express (US), SpaceIL (Israel), Hakuto (Japan) and Synergy Moon (an international consortium).
The beginning of TeamIndus
In January 2015, the TeamIndus were awarded $1 million for having successfully completed a test of their landing system. If TeamIndus succeeds and everything works out as planned, it will be the first private enterprise in the world to not only build and land a spacecraft on the moon but have a rover ride the surface as well. TeamIndus has named the rover ECA, an acronym for Ek Chhoti Si Asha (a small hope). They have also signed a commercial launch contract with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and are just steps away from building the flight model that will be flown on board a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from Sriharikota spaceport.
“We have built a qualification model of the spacecraft, which will undergo rigorous testing at Isro’s test facility in August second week. The next step will be building the flight model, which will be flown,” said Sheelika Ravishankar, in-charge of the firm’s marketing.
The directing mind of TeamIndus
TeamIndus is led by a visionary Rahul Narayan, an IIT-Delhi alumnus who has a history of being involved in multiple tech ventures. To compete for the Google Lunar XPRIZE Competition, Rahul decided to quit his job at Agnicient Technologies, where he was COO. Four of his friends, Sameer Joshi, a former Indian Air Force fighter pilot, Julius Amrit, an investment banker, Dilip Chabria, an advertising professional, and Indranil Chakrobarthy, an aerospace engineer, agreed to join him in his decision.
The employees of TeamIndus, ranging from engineers to software professionals to retired scientists from India’s space agency ISRO, are referred to as Jedis, Ninjas and Skywalkers, inspired from the popular sci-fi franchise Star Wars. The team is backed by the who’s who of Indian business leaders, including Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Ratan Tata of the Tata Group, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon and Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal of Flipkart. Other investors include Subrata Mitra & Shekhar Kirani of Accel Partners, Sharad Sharma, former Yahoo India R&D head, Vivek Raghavan, chief product manager of UIDAI (the Aadhaar project), Pallaw Sharma, director of analytics at Microsoft, Bala Parthasarthy, serial entrepreneur and a part of the AngelPrime angel investor group, and Sunil Kalra, entrepreneur & investor, along with Paras Chopra and Pallav Nadhani.
Venture of the novice
The core members of TeamIndus hold no previous experience in space technology. From then to now, they have had a phenomenal journey. In an interview with the WIRED, Rahul Narayan articulated — “It’s all been a lot like falling in love,” Narayan says. “Only you know the reasons why it’ll work, and they can be difficult to articulate. But there was never any point where I felt it was all lost. It’s been more than six years now. Not once have I thought about shutting it down. It’s that voice inside. It’s following your dream to say: This will happen if we just keep going.”
Har India ka Moonshot
Their mission, which is dubbed as “Har Indian ka Moonshot” will carry two rovers that will land on the moon, one from TeamIndus and another from Hakuto, another first in the history of moon exploration. TeamIndus agreed to carry its Japanese competitors’ rover on the spacecraft to save costs. Once the two rovers are lowered on the surface of the moon, it will be a race to see who crosses 500 metres first and transmits videos and images back to the earth.
Their slogan is only a reflection of their surmounting self-belief, determination and true grit. They want the whole of India to feel a sense of pride in their dream. TeamIndus’ mission is a celebration of all the great things about India – the audacious goal, the young bright engineers, the can-do entrepreneurial spirit, partners who commit their resources, and the new breed of world-class entrepreneurs who have supported our mission – all of whom are united by a vision to deliver a best-in-class technology outcome, entirely out of India.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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