How a Noida startup plans to launch world’s first private moon mission

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By Dasgupta /  09 Jan 2013 , 15:00

A lawyer, a software hacker, entrepreneurs specialising in various verticals, a former Indian Air Force pilot and a bunch of engineers gave up the comforts of familiarity – fixed hours, usual data crunching and sales pitches they could now make in their sleep – to send a robot to the moon. No, you’re neither in a reality show nor one of those man versus alien Hollywood flicks script. In fact, you’re in Noida where a team of 15 have put their heads together to send the first privately launched rover to the moon, also the only team from India and Asia to be competing with 25 others in the world to do the same by 2015.

Engineers of Team Indus working on the primary model of the rover.

For example, 27-year-old Pratik Thaker, a Cornell and Georgia Tech grad, gave up his dollar-spinning job, bid goodbye to Manhattan and settled in Delhi to be a part of Team Indus – which calls itself an ‘aerospace start-up’. He now manages the design team. “I was following Team Indus for a bit, the moment I saw an opportunity to contribute actively to the mission – I packed my bags and am now managing the design team. I had to go beyond the ordinary, and landing on the moon sounded about right, so here I am,” says Thaker.

TheGoogle Lunar X Prize, which Team Indus is competing for, requires a team to launch a moon mission with private funding by 2015. There are few others encouraging space research to move out of the exclusivity of government domains, and therefore private enterprises in the area have been mostly marginal. According to experts, the resources for space research in India too are restricted to government institutions, very few engineering firms and a handful of educational institutes.

“We believe we are the missing link and are creating a collaborative initiative to get the required support to deliver a moon mission. A mission of this scale is just not possible without government support, so the Indian space ecosystem is essential for us, thanks to ISRO we need not bother about building launch systems. An entire ecosystem of former scientists, academicians and experts are available to be tapped into to make this happen. Not to forget the eager student community that is simply done building phone apps or assembling the same robokits over and over again – its great fun to challenge these minds and get them to deliver stuff one needs for ones own mission,” says 40 something Rahul Narayan,team lead, who had initially worked in various management roles in several tech start-ups.

Therefore, the team, which started off with a few guys who were fascinated by the idea of having their own moon mission, has now grown to one which has 10 full-time engineers, an eclectic advisory board and more than two dozens external collaborators.

Understandably, any space research can’t yet be conducted in India with governmentassistanceas most of the knowledge and talent pool lies with it. Team Indus has sough help from the government agencies, through various formal and informal channels, including meeting the former President of India, APJ Abdul Kalam.

“Some of them are cynical, most are supportive although not too many would like to be named on public forums, not as yet. We have encouraging response from some Government research organizations and we looking to work with them for infrastructure, expertise and funding support,” informs Thaker.

The cost of launching the mission, according to the team, would roughly be $20 million. Given that the rules of the competition allows only 10 percent government funding, which too is difficult to acquire, so the team’s primary challenge is pooling in the money required to fund the expensive technological process.

Indus is looking at everything from investors and crowd funding mechanisms to help fund the project.

Watch a video of the mission here:


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