A start-up from Bangalore with no prior knowledge of space flight technology or robotics has been awarded $1 million for meeting significant milestones in the challenge to develop a private spacecraft capable of landing on the moon and transmitting video back to Earth. Team Indus is just one of five organisations to reach the milestone stage of the competition, each of which have their sights set on the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE.
The milestone rewards mean that tiny outfits like Team Indus, comprising a former Air Force pilot, an engineer, branding expert and serial entrepreneur, can go head to head with billion dollar American enterprises like Moon Express. The final deadline is December 2016, but for now, the competition is wide open.
“We believe that we do our best work when we compete and one of the critical elements of any XPRIZE is engaging the competitive spirit that we all feel,” says XPRIZE CEO Peter Diamandis. “Just as the NFL playoffs narrowed fans’ focus on the road to this week’s Super Bowl, the Milestone Prizes allow the public to have a routing interest in the competition and know which teams to follow.”
The first of these contests was the Ansari XPRIZE in 2004, which invited private companies to create a reusable ship that would be able to carry three passengers up to 100 kilometres above the planet’s surface, and was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures. The aim of the most recently announced XPRIZE challenge is more down to earth; the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE offers $10 million to “bring healthcare to the palm of your hand”, using the personal scanning devices in Star Trek as inspiration.
Competitions like this, along with the fall of technological expenses and a renewed public interest in space (as evidenced by the response to last year’s Rosetta mission), have democratised a once closed industry. “The good news is that governments no longer have a monopoly on space exploration,” says Vivek Wadhwa. “In two or three decades we will have entrepreneurs taking us on private spaceflights to the moon. That is what has become possible… The same technologies that are available in the United States and Europe are available worldwide. Innovation has globalised.”