Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Indian team among finalists for Google lunar X prize

Team Indus , founded by Rahul Narayan and Indranil Chakravarty has been named among the five finalists aiming for a milestone prize  in the Google Lunar X Prize. The milestone prizes are meant to help fund some of the competitions best ideas.

 The Google Lunar X Prize  was announced in September 2007.  The total prize at stake was 30 million in incentive based prizes with a deadline of December 2015. There were 33 teams in the competition when registrations closed in 2011.  Currently, 18 remain in the competition.

The aim was something never accomplished at any time - the safe landing of a private craft on the surface of the moon.  The private company which wins the prize will not only have to land the spacecraft safely on the moon surface but also travel 500 meters above, below or on the surface of the moon and also send back at least two 'Mooncasts' to the earth. Bonus prizes could be picked up for exploring lunar artifacts or surviving the lunar night. Milestone prizes for reaching certain milestones were also declared.

The teams have to:
 (a) develop a spacecraft that can do a soft and safe landing on the moon,
 (b) develop a rover that can dismount from the landing craft and travel at least 500 meters on the moon
(c) develop an imaging system that can send back high quality images and videas from the surface of the moon.

On 19th February, the organisers announced the Milestone prizes in these three categories. Team Indus is among  three finalists for the landing system and among the four named for the imaging system.

The other teams among the finalists are Astrobotic and Moon Express from the USA, Hakuto from Japan and Part Time Scientists from Germany.

Chakraborty and Narayan, friends since Standard 6 in school,  resigned from their jobs and decided to focus on this space venture but had barely any funds to do so. They  managed to borrow the $50,000 required for the registration  from friends and family. They also manage to stimulate enough interest to garner support from a large number of people, especially from the social media.

But it is not going to be easy -  they need a further $34 million to build and launch the spacecraft. Since this is a competition for a private  space craft, they cannot take government help.

Nevertheless, doors do open up and here is hoping that Team Indus succeeds in winning the prize. That will be a great day for India and all Indians.

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