TeamIndus is building a privately-funded spacecraft which it hopes will soft-land on the moon by December 2017. TeamIndus is run by Axiom Research Labs, an aerospace startup from Bengaluru, which has registered for the Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP). The company is the only Indian entry in this global competition.
It was founded in 2011 and funded by the founders and top entrepreneurs who have backed the venture in their personal capacity. This “Made in India” robot is competing with 16 such robots from around the world. The competition had started off with 29 teams. But not all of them were up to the herculean task of landing a rover on the moon and being the first privately-funded space exploration mission to do so.
All participating teams must be at least 90 percent privately-funded, though reasonable commercial sales to government customers are allowed without any limit. Not only do these teams have to successfully land a rover on the moon, they also need to cover at least 500 metres on the moon’s surface and be able to transmit high definition video and images back to earth.
If TeamIndus is successful, it could win a $30 million prize purse and earn the tag of the first ever Indian entity to soft-land on the moon. TeamIndus has already won a $1 million milestone prize for demonstrating its landing technology.
Karan Vaish, the man who designed the rover (and whose official designation reads “Skywalker”) says a lot of planning has gone into it. The rover’s wheels have been built specifically for movement on the moon’s surface. It also comes with a robust suspension and the robot is devoid of any springs and dampers. This ensures that the rover remains lightweight. It has two eyes, which look like the ‘mast of a ship’ and contains high-definition cameras which will transmit stereo images back to earth.
More than 85 engineers and 15 former ISRO scientists are helping TeamIndus design and develop its proprietary technology from its headquarters in Jakkur, Bangalore.
The question of funding is crucial for all startups, and more so for a company engaged in a lunar mission which costs a whopping $60 million. Vivek Raghavan, technology leader at TeamIndus agrees, but adds, “Funding for a project of this scale is definitely a challenge but we have been lucky to have strong backers like Nandan Nilekani and other top entrepreneurs. We feel confident that we will be able to raise the funds and actually win this competition.”