Date
19 November 2017
An artist's representation of the lunar rover that Team Indus plans to send to the moon. Photo: HKEJ/Team Indus
An artist's representation of the lunar rover that Team Indus plans to send to the moon. Photo: HKEJ/Team Indus

New Delhi group partners with Tata for Google lunar mission

A New Delhi-based non-profit organization has partnered with Tata Communications to land a spacecraft on the moon.

Team Indus is one of the 18 finalists for Google’s US$30 million Lunar XPRIZE, an international competition launched in 2007 with the aim of developing low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. Its ultimate goal is a moon landing.

A grand prize of US$20 million will be awarded to the first privately funded team that 1) safely lands a spacecraft on the moon 2) makes it travel at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and 3) enables it to stream high-definition “mooncasts” back to earth before the end of 2016.

The remaining US$10 million will be shared by teams with other achievements.

It’s a tough race. Lunar missions are normally undertaken by states because of the enormous investment, technology and staff involved.

But Team Indus remains undaunted, although the US$20 million prize is not even enough to bankroll the project. According to team leader Rahul Narayan, the group will need to invest about US$40-45 million to get it off the ground.

But the significance of the mission goes beyond grabbing the prestigious prize. “The ability of our team to complete the journey itself would be a win,” Narayan told EJ Insight in a telephone interview.

Fortunately, Team Indus has found a partner in Tata Communications, a global provider of telecommunication services based in Mumbai.

The team is now using the company’s data center and services for free. Tata’s help is crucial in operating the team’s command center in Bangalore, which will carry all of the data, web hosting and flight path analytics for the mission.

The network will also handle communications between Earth stations in the United States and the Bangalore command center in order to track the spacecraft at all times during the flight and on the lunar surface, said Julie Woods-Moss, chief marketing officer and chief executive of Tata Communications’ Nextgen Business.

The team now has 40 full-time staff and about 1,000 vendors, advisers and other support personnel from over 10 partner organizations.

According to the rules of the competition, at least one team should be able to provide documentation for a scheduled launch by Dec. 31, 2015 for all teams to move forward in the competition.

The desire to explore space has filled man’s imagination since time immemorial.  The United States and the then Soviet Union allocated billions of dollars in their space programs as they raced to land the first man on the moon.

The Soviets were the first to send a man-made object to the moon, the Luna 2 mission, on Sept. 13, 1959. But it was an American, Neil Armstrong, who became the first man to land on the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969 through the US’ Apollo 11 mission.

Decades later, other countries, including Japan, China, India as well as the European Space Agency, were able to crash-land spacecraft on the moon’s surface. On Dec. 14, 2013, China’s Chang’e 3 soft-landed a rover on the moon.

Although a lunar landing is not a pioneering effort, Narayan is thrilled by the idea of a privately funded lunar exploration.

He believes that such a mission will be closely followed by people from all over the world. “I think there is a large audience out there … people who believe in the dream of the Apollo mission and all of that [space exploration],” he said.

The mission is expected to relay two high-definition videos back to earth, enabling people to watch the journey and feel a personal experience of the event.

Google hopes the Lunar XPRIZE competition will encourage innovation in space technologies, demonstrate private industry’s ability to achieve low-cost space exploration and ultimately create a revolution, according to its official website.

As of last year, 18 teams remained in contention for the grand prize, comprising more than 200 paid employees and over 800 active volunteers.

So far, they have invested more than US$18 million and plan to invest a further US$278 million in the next two years, the organizer said.

 The official promotional video “Back To The Moon For Good – The New Space Race”: 

A clip showcasing Team Indus’ moon rover:

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MY/JP/CG

EJ Insight reporter

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