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Reaching for the moon: TeamIndus members (from left) Sridhar Ramasubban, Rahul Narayan, Sheelika Ravishankar and Dhruv Batra
Image: Nishant Ratnakar
“Falcon heavy goes vertical,” billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk recently tweeted, with a short time-lapse video. The rocket, built by Musk’s company SpaceX, will soon go on its first test flight, and, if all goes well, it could be the rocket that takes humans to Mars, one day.
Such dreams are possibly what propel the founders behind the 10 space startups in India—there are more than 1,500 globally—to one day build an Indian SpaceX or Blue Origin that can join the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in taking India’s space leadership into the next millennium.
For now, Isro, which launched its 100th satellite on January 12, remains the only game in town. Stellar though its role has been thus far, Isro has a very different approach in comparison to Nasa that has struck deals with many private enterprises.
Therefore, what’s a little lost in the disappointment over TeamIndus reportedly pulling out of the Google-backed Lunar XPrize contest is that they did come quite far. Especially for an Indian startup that dreamed of delivering full programmes—building and launching a satellite, and not supply piecemeal components to ISRO.
TeamIndus actually made it to the final 10—from among 29 contestants—then remained in the final five, and won one of the milestone prizes, leading up to the actual launch date. The competition required contestants to build, launch and land a rover on the moon, for it to then cover 500 m on its own power and send back pre-designated data.
And the effort had to be privately funded. Indeed, chief among TeamIndus’s reasons for pulling out seems to be their inability to raise money to pay ISRO for the PSLV rocket they would need, according to a report in The Ken.
“ The story of TeamIndus is a call for getting things fixed at many levels in India.”