TeamIndus was founded in 2010 to become the first private entity from India to put a rover on the moon by 2017. How is it faring?
Bengaluru: To win the international Google Lunar XPrize, a private team must build a rover, launch it to the moon, ensure it travels for at least 500 metres on the lunar surface and sends back hi-def images and videos – all by December 2017. And the only team from India and still in the race is cutting it real close. TeamIndus, based out of Bengaluru, India, hopes to make it in the last week of the last month of the contest onboard a PSLV rocket. The detail was finalised earlier this month, historic because it is ISRO’s first sale of its launch vehicle to a private entity.
“I think we’re just about two-thirds of the way through,” says Rahul Narayan, founder of TeamIndus. “We’ve got two dozen suppliers, most of them international. All of their material needs to come in at the same time, with the right testing and qualifications.” But even so, he’s very optimistic of TeamIndus’s chances. “First to the launchpad? Highly likely. First to launch? Very, very likely. First to land on the moon? I think so.”
TeamIndus was founded in 2010 to crack the XPrize. Today, it counts over 80 engineers and a dozen scientists among its employees. And it plans to add more once a new round of funding brings $10-15 million into their kitty. Their office is located in north Bengaluru, in a simple white building off a busy highway, obscured by tall tress and vines draping its walls.
The chassis of an early model of TeamIndus’s rover has been parked just beyond the gate. It looks like a big old park bench with space for about four people to sit on; I don’t notice it until Narayan points it out. “That’s actually version two of our spacecraft, from 2013 – that’s how it used to look, that was the size of the spacecraft. The solar panels were flat and it had three engines at the bottom.”
Keeping it simple
The building’s blocks are named Aryabhatta, Bhaskara and C.V. Raman – the names of three of India’s most celebrated scientists. The first two have also had ISRO satellites named after them, but you’d be off if you thought there was a deeper meaning. Narayan likes to keep things simple. “ABC,” he clarifies, just like TeamIndus’s tagline: ‘Aspire. Believe. Create.’ The company’s employees have almost a spartan focus on the basics. Narayan doesn’t want to be “that sexy” or deploy something fancy. Instead, him and his colleagues are trying to build something that just works.
They looked at some of the first American rovers conceived for Mars, which weighed about 20-25 kg and were designed to last for a few months on the red planet. With this choice, the problem they’d be solving for became easier to define: how do you land something that weighs about 25 kg on Mars? And then they worked backwards from there to figure out the whole mission.
The way things stand: in the last week of December 2017, a PSLV rocket will carry a spacecraft – whose launch mass will be around 600 kg – to an orbit about 70,000 km high. There, the spacecraft will orbit Earth twice, each time climbing in altitude by 10,000 km. Then, it will attempt a manoeuvre called a translunar injection and set itself en route to the moon.
Once there, it will orbit the natural satellite for about two weeks before the spacecraft will deploy the rover, which will be moving through space at about 1.7 km/s at an altitude of around 12 km. Over the next 15 minutes, the rover will fire its sixteen attitude control thrusters and one primary thruster to descend on the lunar surface, moving down in a curved path. Once it touches down, it will send a signal back to Earth saying it’s reached safe. Then, the last phase of the mission will begin.
According to Narayan, the landing will be the most challenging part of their efforts because it will be completely autonomous. “Before we say, ‘Okay, you’re good to go’, we’ve to look at parameters starting from the state of charge of the battery, the orientation of the spacecraft, the condition of your knowledge about the spacecraft in terms of whether it’s in line with what you’ve predicted, etc., and only then you send the command to begin descent.” And once that happens, TeamIndus will only be receiving telemetry. Narayan compares the event to what happened when NASA landed Curiosity on Mars in 2012. Its descent phase was defined by seven minutes of silence from the rover, since called the ‘seven minutes of terror‘.
“Almost everybody comes and says, ‘We think you can do the engineering, let’s talk about the other stuff.’ But the engineering is the most complex job,” he laughs. “Every part of the mission has a ‘sphere’ within which it can operate”, a reference to the range of values each part can take on. He extends his thumb and index fingers: “The spacecraft can be here or here” – he points near either finger from within the gap – “but if it’s outside the sphere, then the mission will fail because we can’t predict what will happen next.” Before launch, the mission operations team charts out the entire spectrum of possibilities and within which Narayan says a million scenarios exist. And this is why it’s so important to define the mission’s conditions for success: depending on the desired outcome, the team has to decide beforehand what happens next in each scenario.
Different kinds of failure
In a similar vein, because various segments of the project present different levels of difficulty, TeamIndus also has a graded definition of failure. Narayan thinks that if, in hindsight, they discover that they didn’t get some things right on the drawing board, that’d be the worst for having spent so much time, energy and resources on as well as for what it would mean for the company’s reputation. But “if we build the entire spacecraft, qualify it, put it onto the launchpad” – all of which he thinks won’t really be a challenge – then it will be a success for their engineering team. Finally, if something goes wrong in-flight or after touchdown, Narayan isn’t too worried: “We’re doing it for the first time.”
At this point, he compares TeamIndus’s efforts to full-blown state-sponsored space agencies around the world that spend hundreds of millions of dollars and still can’t be absolutely certain of their chances of success. This is only fair because space isn’t easy. When it successfully began the Mars Orbiter Mission in September 2014, ISRO became the first national space agency to get that far on its first try. But at the same time, Narayan doesn’t think highly of the jugaad that many have attributed to this, especially considering recent reports that it was pulled off on a puny budget of Rs 447.39 crore.
‘Jugaad‘ is Hindi for a make-do attitude that typifies a uniquely Indian brand of entrepreneurialism. Its presence is taken for granted (and so doesn’t elicit surprise) in undertakings that are pulled off against tough odds such as a lack of money or manpower, usually by substituting an ideal resource with one that is readily available or accessible. Of late, this attitude has cropped up when discussing satellites built by Indian universities as well. ISRO has many memoranda of understanding with institutions to ready and launch student-built satellites. However, these satellites often fail soon after they enter orbit and linger there as orbital debris.
“How do a group of 20 students and three professors get together, work on a satellite for three years and spend Rs 20 lakh on the hardware?” Narayan begins cautiously. “If you just looked at the value of their time, it’s an order of magnitude more than that. It’s bound to cost Rs 2 or 3 crore, so at some point you need to stop doing jugaad and start focusing on what you need to do. Instead of spending Rs 2 lakh or 20 lakh, if they spent about a crore and actually built something that worked, it would make a whole lot more sense – rather than take so many shortcuts” and then simply not succeed.
A graded definition of failure also has implications for the cash reward the XPrize carries for the first team that achieves all its objectives: $30 million. Though the stipulated deadline is December 2017 and it looks like TeamIndus’s at least two-week-long mission will begin only in the last week of that month, Narayan thinks there’s some ambiguity in the language there that will see them through. Plus there are only three other teams that have had their launch contracts verified by the contest’s organisers (Narayan is sure theirs will be too, by the January 1, 2017, deadline) – down from the 29 that had initially applied. But even if TeamIndus is the first to get on the launchpad, the reward’s quantum indicates that wouldn’t entirely be the point anymore.
According to Narayan, the mission has cost TeamIndus Rs 400 crore – almost $59 million. So winning the XPrize a year down the line would be a glorious stepping stone: landing on the moon would do a world of good for the “trajectory of the team, of the company, of the country, so to speak”. But it’d be a stepping stone nonetheless, towards the company’s moving on to bigger things. Specifically, Narayan says they want to build as well as provide services for 150-kg-class satellites, a class that has been becoming increasingly popular for its fast turnarounds. “That’s one of the natural segues for us as a team” – a team he feels has been easier to bring together given what they’re trying to do but in an ecosystem that’s mostly devoid of talent.
Controlling the narrative
Yet another source of revenue closer to now is to sell what data TeamIndus’s spacecraft and rover collect to ISRO. He’s not clear about the exact timeframe but there’s a general awareness that the next big Indian rover mission after TeamIndus’s will be ISRO’s own Chandrayaan 2, also slated for the moon. However, Narayan clarifies that there has been no formal discussion on that. “Right now, we’re trying to get the contract and the cross-verification of the mission strategy out of the way. We’re already in touch with some of the other centres of ISRO that build payloads and might be interested.”
Apart from the launch vehicle, the contract gives TeamIndus access to some other mission-critical infrastructure. One is testing and getting the spacecraft ready for launch. The second: ground communications. During the launch and descent phases, the spacecraft/rover will communicate with engineers on Earth through ISRO’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), headquartered in Bengaluru. And via ISTRAC, TeamIndus will also have access to NASA’s Deep Space Network, a network of antennae that can ‘listen’ to satellites billions of kilometres away.
But even with this help, one deficiency shouts through. “We do not have a proper planetary sciences group,” says Narayan, which makes it harder to decide what line of research to pursue depending on which part of the moon their rover is going to explore (the current choice is a region called the Sea of Showers). India’s own planetary missions only kicked off with the Chandrayaan 1 in 2008 – while NASA and the European Space Agency have had such groups for many decades now. He hopes the XPrize mission will move things along.
Then again, leading up to this interview, TeamIndus’s staying away from the media until very recently has seemed like a deficiency, too. Narayan justifies it by saying he owes it to his team to “tightly control the narrative” and keep it focused on what they’re trying to do – instead of spending time clarifying that they’re not competing with Mars One, the European organisation that has promised to ferry some people on a one-way trip to Mars next decade. Such reports actually appeared in 2011, followed by some others that said TeamIndus had actually won the XPrize.
“We’ve been very circumspect, but going forward, we know that a lot of people are going to be a part of this. We’re putting together what could be a very public outreach campaign that gets more and more people involved,” Narayan explains. This campaign includes Lab2Moon, an invitation to innovators around the world to pitch a science experiment on the theme of ‘sustainable life on the moon’. TeamIndus, however, doesn’t expect anything groundbreaking: the spacecraft will only have room for something the size of a small water bottle. The first shortlist of 20 entries, choosing from over 3,000, is expected to be announced by next week. And once an experiment does go up, TeamIndus has promised what data it gathers will be all put in the public domain.
Julius Amrit, Narayan’s colleague, thinks it will be India’s Apollo moment – and why not? When John F. Kennedy addressed a joint session of the US Congress in May 1961, appealing them to fund efforts that would culminate in Apollo 11, he may well have been speaking of efforts underway right now: “For while we cannot guarantee that we shall one day be first, we can guarantee that any failure to make this effort will find us last. We take an additional risk by making it in full view of the world – but as shown by the feat of astronaut [Alan] Shepard, this very risk enhances our stature when we are successful. But this is not merely a race. Space is open to us now; and our eagerness to share its meaning is not governed by the efforts of others.”
This Indian company is going to send a robot to Moon, signs historic contract with ISRO
TeamIndus will launch its Moon-bound robot aboard ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in late 2017, the company said in a statement.
The contract is an attempt to win the "Google Lunar XPRIZE", a competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.
TeamIndus is the only Indian team competing for the $30 million "Google Lunar XPRIZE." This will be the first time ISRO has given a dedicated PSLV to any private entity.
"The launch contract reaffirms our mission as a truly Indian mission where the best of India's public and private enterprises have come together to realise a common dream. Programmes like these are a testimony to the 'Make in India' initiative in the increasingly competitive world of new space companies," said Rahul Narayan, TeamIndus' Fleet Commander, in a statement.
"Google Lunar XPRIZE" requires privately funded teams to land their rovers on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 metres and broadcast high-definition video, images and data back to Earth.
"In a launch window starting on 28th of December, 2017, the PSLV will inject the spacecraft into an orbit 880 km x 70,000 km around the Earth. The spacecraft will then undertake a 21-day journey to soft land in Mare Imbrium, a region in the North-Western hemisphere of the Moon," the statement added.
After landing, the spacecraft will deploy all its payload including the TeamIndus rover that will traverse 500 metres on the Moon's surface in order to accomplish its "Google Lunar XPRIZE" objectives.
Rahul Narayan had no clue about space. In 2010, he was in the software industry, running a startup that developed products for an ecommerce company.
Who knew seven years later, he would on his way sending a rover to the moon?
Narayan and his friends were intrigued by Google Lunar X-Prize competition announced in 2010.
The competition invited private companies to land a rover on the moon, make it travel for 500 meters and beam high resolution photos and videos back to Earth.
"We were looking and saying that if any Indian team is doing this we got to be a part of this. Whether building software or doing marketing, this is the project of a lifetime," Narayan told Mashable two months ago at the Team Indus campus in Bangalore.
"We asked around and there was no Indian team. Therefore, the only option left was that we had to be the Indian team. So going from 'hey, we will help in marketing' and being a part of the team to figuring out everything from the basics and Wikipedia [on] how to build a spacecraft. That is the true story."
On Thursday, Team Indus announced it had become the first private company to have secured a dedicated rocket from the government-funded Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
If all goes according to plan, Team Indus' home-manufactured spacecraft will fly aboard ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PLSV) during a three-day launch window beginning Dec. 28, 2016.
The PSLV will inject the spacecraft in an orbit 880 km x 70,000 km around the Earth. The spacecraft will then embark upon a 21-day journey and land in Mare Imbrium, a region in the North-Western hemisphere of the Moon.
Team Indus was one of the last teams to register for the competition.
Over the last couple of years, they went from figuring out whether they could do it, to hiring a team that could take them closer to achieving the task.
But the watershed moment came when Lunar X-Prize shortlisted them for a Milestone challenge and they won $1 million towards landing technology.
Since then, Team Indus has raised funding from renowned Indian industrialists and entrepreneurs like Ratan Tata of the Tata Group, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Flipkart co-founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal, and many more.
One of the rules of the Google Lunar X-Prize is that the mission should be at least 90 percent funded by private sources.
The group has built a team comprising 100 people, mostly youngsters fresh out of college along with 20 retired ISRO scientists with rich experience of space missions.
For its part, ISRO is now one of the world's most renowned space agencies, having successfully sent missions to Mars, launched record number of satellites in a single mission and helped India establish its own GPS system.
Team Indus is now the fourth team worldwide to have secured a launch contract and considers itself as one of the front runners in the challenge.
Israeli team SpaceIL secured a contract in Oct. 2015 and is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of next year.
American team Moon Express announced its contract with Rocket Lab's Electron rocketsand is also scheduled for launch in 2017.
An international team, Synergy Systems, became the third team to secure a launch vehicle and is also scheduled to go to the Moon in the second half of 2017. One of the team members, Interorbital Systems, will be the launch provider and will use a Neptune 8 rocket.
But the Google Lunar X-Prize is just the beginning for the Indian startup, which feels it already has a foot in the door in the growing private industry of space exploration.
"As Team Indus goes ahead, whether or not it wins the competition, I think one impact that will come out, is any group of five people can start and build something that can land on the moon.
"If that is possible, then anything is possible," Narayan says.
India’s first private moon mission next year
TeamIndus, a Bengaluru-based private aerospace company, has said it will send a spacecraft to the moon on December 28, 2017, aboard an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket.
The mission’s aim is to land this spacecraft on the moon, have it travel at least 500 metres and beam high- definition video, images and data back to the earth. Were it to be successful, it would likely pip ISRO’s proposed moon-lander mission — Chandrayaan 2 — that is yet to formally announce a launch date. In 2008, Chandrayaan 1 became the first Indian space mission to send a spacecraft that circled the moon.
Except for the launch vehicle, all of the technology that will power the rover and lander is developed in-house by TeamIndus.
TeamIndus has high-profile investors, including Ratan Tata of the Tata Group; Sachin and Binny Bansal, co-founders of Flipkart and Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys Ltd, and is a 100-member team of engineers, space enthusiasts, former Air Force pilots and former ISRO employees. It is one of the four international teams — and the only one from India — in the running for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million (approx. Rs. 200 crore) competition, to encourage private companies to launch space missions.
Two U.S.-based companies, Moon Express and Synergy Moon and one Israeli company — SPACE 1 L — have so far announced agreements with space-launch-vehicle companies such as SpaceX. Other than technical requirements, the prize rules also require that companies be 90% privately funded.
The launch agreements are a prerequisite to be in the reckoning for the prize and also require contenders to launch their vehicles before December 28, 2017. TeamIndus is the only one so far to have announced a firm launch date at a press conference on Thursday here.
“We are delighted to officially verify TeamIndus’ launch contract,” said Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director, Google Lunar XPRIZE, said in a press statement. Antrix, the commercial arm of ISRO, with whom TeamIndus signed an agreement, declined to comment.
Rahul Narayan, TeamIndus’ Fleet Commander said ISRO’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) would launch the spacecraft in a three-day window centred on December 28 next year and, after completing a rotation around the earth, will ideally land in 21 days at Mare Imbrium, a region in the North-Western hemisphere of the Moon.
The mission requires $60 million (approx. Rs. 450 crore) and company officials say they have so far tied in $15 million (approx. Rs. 100 crore) as equity funding. They hope to make up the rest of the money, through 2017, by leasing out spare space in the spacecraft for organisations wanting to conduct experiments and also through crowd-funding. “Rest assured, we will have the money for the launch,” said Mr. Narayan
Sridhar Ramasubban, who leads Business Development and Partnerships, said that TeamIndus saw itself as a “complete” aerospace company. “We’d like to be a company with competence in all parts of the space business, except, for now, building launch vehicles. That would include building satellites, rovers, space applications…Winning the prize is only a part of our mission.”
Quelle: The Hindu
India's first private moon mission coming up in 2017
TeamIndus, a private aerospace starup and Google Lunar XPRIZE winners ae all set to launch a rocket to moon next year. Know more about the project.
TeamIndus, a private aerospace starup company seemed to have one upped the ISRO's Chandrayaan-2 project. The company is planning to send a spacecraft to the moon, with the help of a launch rocket by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
The scheduled launch date of the rocket is December 28, 2017. This will be India's first private moon mission to be launched, which until now have been regulated solely by the government. ISRO's workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) will be taking the TeamIndus's rocket to the moon.
TeamIndus won the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a 30 million USD competition. Based in Bengaluru, TeamIndus is led by Rahul Narayan. He heads a teach of over 100 members with a pool of engineers, space enthusiasts, former Air Force pilots and former ISRO employees. The investors range from Ratan Tata of the Tata Group to Binny and Sachin Bansal, co-founders of Flipkart and Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys.
Here's all you need to know about their moon project: