India’s Team Indus announced that it will send its rover to the moon next year.
Team Indus is one of the 16 teams that are in the race for the Google Lunar Xprize challenge wherein the first team to successfully land a rover on the Moon, make it travel for 500 metres and send back HD videos and images of Earth will win $20 million. It is also the only Indian company in the race. Even though Team Indus was a late entrant to the competition, the company claims to have made significant progress in the mission and has become the fourth team to win a contract for a commercial launch with ISRO. This is also the first time a private Indian company has been granted a dedicated launch vehicle for a space mission by ISRO.
WHILE PRIVATE SPACE PROGRAMS ARE THRIVINGIN THE US
While private space programs are thriving in the US, India’s space program mainly revolves around missions undertaken by ISRO. Though, the Indian space agency has made giant strides by launching Mangalyan, multiple satellites in different orbits and much more in recent times. If successful, Team Indus could provide a new impetus to India’s space ambitions. It may not as mature as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and doesn’t own a launch carrier, but the company believes it is “culturally-like SpaceX with more patriotism and passion.”
What is Google Lunar Xprize Challenge?
Also known as Moon 2.0, the competition is funded by Google and organized by Xprize. It involves global spaceflight teams to become the first to land a private rover on the Moon, travel 500 meters and send back HD images and videos. Last year, Xprize extended the deadline for the competition to December 2017 if at least one of the participating teams could bag a verified launch contract by end of December 2015.
After two teams bagged the contract, the deadline was extended. As of today, out of 16 teams, four teams — paceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon and Team Indus — have secured the launch contracts. Other teams have by the end of 2016 to get the contract and stay in the competition.
Who is Team Indus?
Team Indus is a for-profit organization, and the only Indian company in the competition. It was founded by IIT-Delhi alumnus Rahul Narayan, Indranil Chakraborty and Julius Amrit. Currently, it has over 100 staff including retired ISRO scientists and several aeronautic engineers. Even though the company joined the competition three years after the Lunar Xprize was announced, it was one of the three teams to win $1 million milestone award for the successful pilot test of lunar lander technology.
Team Indus aims to use the Lunar Xprize competition as the launchpad for its own evolution as a full-fledged space company that intends to undertake inter-planetary mission and develop satellites. As far as its business model goes, the company aims to be become profitable one in next couple of years on the basis of equity, crowdfunding, and payload.
It is worth pointing out that the company aims to raise $60 million for the mission, and has already gotten $15 million from its investors, which includes the likes of Ratan Tata, Nandan Nilekani, Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal among others.
When will Team Indus launch the moon rover?
With the contract, Team Indus is now on course to launch its rover into space. The startup has also shared a timeline for the launch and has been granted a three-day launch window starting December 28, 2017, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. If successful, the rover will land on Moon in January. The targeted date of landing is January 28, 2018.
Team Indus reveals that the spacecraft descent has been optimized for the landing to coincide with the lunar dawn at Mare Imbrium, which is a vast lava plain and the chosen landing site. The rover is supposed to be active for about two weeks and will send data including high-resolution images and videos of Earth. As mandated by the Google Lunar Xprize terms, the rover will have to travel 500 meters.
The company claims it has already frozen the design and ordered components and is in the process of conducting mission rehearsals, and taking measures to protect the rover from harsh conditions in space. Team Indus says it will be completely an in-house developed device, also a first for any private Indian company.
“What gave us confidence to dream big when we started on this journey many years back was the heft of the scientific legacy that India, with ISRO, created over decades. This launch contract reaffirms our mission as a truly Indian mission where the best of India’s public and private enterprises have come together to realize a common dream,” said Rahul Narayan from TeamIndus.
More about Team Indus’ spacecraft to Moon
To be carried by ISRO’s PSLV, the spacecraft is a 3-axis stabilized, all-aluminium quadropod. The spacecraft will weigh 600kg at the time of takeoff. It houses a 460 Newton rocket engine, 16 control thrusters, fuel tank, oxidizer tank and guidance, and communication hardware. The spacecraft houses Team Indus’ rover, ECA. The company claims the spacecraft can survive temperature ranging from -230 degrees to 150 degrees Celsius.
The rover, ECA, is also all-aluminium, four wheel drive, and an all-terrain rover. It is capable of moving 500 meters and capturing HD imagery. It houses a variety of equipment including cameras from the French Space Agency CNES.
As far as the launch goes, 15 minutes after the takeoff, the PSLV will inject the spacecraft into 880 km x 70,000km earth orbit. During the two orbits around the Earth, Team Indus will conduct a systems check. After orbiting the Earth, the spacecraft will fire its rocket engines in a manoeuvre called a Trans-lunar injection, which will set it on course for the moon. At the altitude of 180 km, the spacecraft will decelerate into a 100 x 7500km selenocentric orbit.
ECA will then be deployed onto the lunar surface. The ECA will then move around the surface of the moon, capture and beam back high-definition video and images.