TeamIndus gets a thumbs up from Google Lunar XPRIZE judges, now on final leg of moon mission


TeamIndus gets a shot in the arm as an inspection team of independent judges from the Google Lunar XPRIZE announces they are impressed with the progress of its moon mission.

Aerospace startup TeamIndus, the only Indian team among the top five for the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) contest, is all set for its moonshot. It is now eyeing the grand prize of $30 million to emerge as the overall champion in the competition.

The GLXP is an international competition to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. Among other milestones and various criteria, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface (soft landing) and explore at least 500 metres and transmit high-definition video and images back to earth before the mission’s extended deadline of March 31, 2018.

An international panel of judges from GLXP visited TeamIndus’s headquarters in Bengaluru on Thursday to review the detailed mission plan. The five-day visit of space scientists and aerospace engineers includes a detailed look at the models of the spacecraft and the moon rover ECA, and simulation of the moon cast.

Professor Alan Wells, Chairman of the panel and Emeritus Professor at the University of Leicester, said,

“After taking a detailed look at the mission plan and methodologies being employed to gauge the progress of the lunar mission, we are impressed by the readiness of TeamIndus. They are clearly on the right trajectory to make history.”

The judges also pointed out the 10 steps/parameters of evaluating every mission and said that TeamIndus has shown “progress” in each step.

The spacecraft will be housed in the nosecone of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s workhorse launch vehicle, the PSLV. It is slated for launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.

Without announcing the exact timeline of the launch, Rahul Narayan, Fleet Commander at Team Indus, said, “From our mission analysis, we are waiting for a couple of things to materialise. However, in the worst case scenario, we may take the March 5-6 window for launch. In any circumstances, we need to declare six weeks ahead of launch.”

Talking about the challenges, he added that finance was the biggest, the same as most startups.

The estimated cost of the entire mission is Rs 450 crore, and over 50 percent has been arranged for. For the remaining amount, TeamIndus is in talks with the investors and is in final terms of raising a Series B funding.

The GLXP team and Rahul Narayan (extreme left) at Team Indus' Mission Control room.

When asked about its X factor, Professor John Zarnecki, President of Royal Astronomical Society and Emeritus Professor at the UK’s open University, said, “The combination of youthful enthusiasm and experience in TeamIndus makes them unique.”

Among the 29 applications received, five teams have made it to the final stage. Apart from TeamIndus, other competitors include Moon Express from the US, Team SYNERGY MOON, an international team with members from six continents, Israel’s Space 2, and Hakuto from Japan. The Japanese team's rover will hitch a ride with Team Indus on ISRO's spacecraft.

Discussing the Indian ecosystem and the competitive spirit, Chanda Gozales-Mowrer, Prize Lead for GLXP said, “Over 100 teams from India are a part of other Google Xprize competition around carbon capture, global literacy, and women safety. However, the risk in lunar programme is quite big as it is a capital-intensive task.”

During the demonstration of the spacecraft designed and developed by TeamIndus, the engineers explained that it will weigh 600kg at takeoff. It houses a rocket engine, 16 thrusters, a propellant tank, an oxidiser tank, the TeamIndus Moon Rover ECA, and commercial and experimental payload.

TeamIndus, which was the last team to enter the competition when it was announced in 2007, has gained support and backing from industrialists and corporates like Ratan Tata, Nandan Nilekani, Biocon’s Kiran M Shaw, and Cognizant’s Lakshmi Narayan, among others.