The Google Lunar-X prize is a highly leveraged, incentivized prize competition that pushes the limits of what’s possible to change the world for the better. To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place a rover on the Moon’s surface that explores at least 500 metres and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth, before the mission deadline of 31 December 2017.
In this exclusive interview with Scigazette, Dhruv Batra, Jedi Master Programs, for Team Indus (the only Indian team in this competition) reveals about the teams journey of building a privately funded spacecraft capable of soft landing on the Moon by the year 2017.
The Lab2Moon contest invites young minds of India to share ideas that would help sustainable life on Moon. How satisfied are you with the ideas that have come in?
We had an overwhelming response of over 3000+ entries from across 12 countries. We were pleasantly surprised with the quality and depth of the ideas we’ve received. In fact the shortlisting process is all-the-more tougher – a good challenge to have. As the judges are currently in the process of reviewing the entries, it would be incorrect to comment on any of the ideas but we’re excited with what could the experiment we’re going to carry! Can’t wait!
The first step of the GLXP is to build a Rover. How far is Team Indus from achieving that feat?
Our rover is one of the most interesting elements of the Mission and we are quite proud of what we have achieved. There have been several technical feats that have been developed for the rover, in terms of how it will move around the lunar surface. We will be also carrying cameras on the rover from the French Space agency CNES. The rover will be deployed from the spacecraft once we land, will move around the lunar surface and send back high definition images form the lunar surface.
Any industrial or logistic association that has helped your journey be smoother?
There are many who have helped us enormously along the journey. Companies like Sasken Communications, L&T and Tata Communications have been our great supporters.
When we embarked on this journey, we were well-aware that it will not be any easier and we encountered a number of challenges on multiple fronts but that again is the case with any moonshot and in our context, a literal one
How crucial has the role of ISRO been in shaping the Team Indus vision into reality?
As we often say, we stand on the shoulder of the giant that ISRO is. The space agency has been a great inspiration for the country and for us. We have received the launch contract with ISRO for this historic mission, but even beyond that ISRO has been a huge force. Not least in the form of the close to two dozen former ISRO scientists and engineers who believe in us and work closely with us.
You had mentioned earlier that funding is a major challenge. How well are you doing in that area?
Fortunately, we have had several backers who have supported our journey thus far, but as you can imagine, raising money for an audacious and ambitious mission like ours is never easy. Even with due consideration to frugal engineering, this is an expensive space mission and we have raised only a fraction of the total investment needed to make this happen. Every time, people hear about us, they do tend to come forward and ask if they can participate in any manner and be a part of our journey to the moon. We are currently designing a program that will help them do just that.
What are the major challenges that still remain unmoved?
When we embarked on this journey, we were well-aware that it will not be any easier and we encountered a number of challenges on multiple fronts but that again is the case with any moonshot and in our context, a literal one. Given that there isn’t too much publicly available information on performing a moon landing, the initial constraint was getting the right information and chalking the way forward. We’ve pretty much have had to figure it out ourselves. Having said that, we are thankful that this mission is being nurtured under the expert advice of ex-ISRO scientists who have built many of India’s most successful missions. We have beaten long odds to come this far, credibly demonstrating capabilities and leading the way on the international stage.
Team Indus is a strategic mix of science, technology, finance and media minds all aiming for the moon. What drives the Team Indus and what is the team philosophy that keeps the passion ignited?
Imagining, designing and building a Moon mission is certainly a multi-disciplinary project; an intersection of many different branches of science and engineering. Sure, it has been a challenge putting together a team, but a mission like this attracts some of the most passionate and committed individuals including retired ISRO scientists who have been an integral part of many Indian missions. GLXP is not so much about the prize money, but about the immense privilege for India in the field of space exploration. The fact that no Indian team was participating motivated us to come together, form a team and register for the GLXP, despite the fact we have no background in aerospace. It is all about getting space enthusiasts together and creating an opportunity for aerospace research and push the boundaries of space exploration in India.