Ratan Tata, the interim chairman of the Tata Group, Flipkart co-founders Sachin Bansal and Binny Bansal and TVS Group Chairman Venu Srinivasan have become the latest backers of Team Indus, India’s first private mission to the moon.
Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, who had led the previous round of investment in the company, has also reinvested in this round, which saw participation from Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Ashish Kacholia and R K Damani. With this, Team Indus has raised a total equity of $15 million in the current round from dozens of investors, who are betting on the Bengaluru-based team to emerge as the first private venture to land on the moon.
Team Indus is one out of four teams and the only one from India to be participating in the Google Lunar XPrize competition that challenges private firms globally to land on the moon.
The start-up plans to ride on India’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket to hurl its spacecraft and land a rover on the moon that would move around and transmit high-definition video and images back to earth.
“They are the face of new India, and I believe they will inspire the next generation of innovators and achievers,” said Nilekani.
Like Nilekani, most people backing Team Indus have done so out of their desire to be part of something that will put India on the global map rather than for financial gain, says Rahul Narayan, founder and chief executive officer of Team Indus.
While the mission to reach the moon will cost Team Indus around $65 million, the company says the $30 million in equity will be augmented by income through selling payload capacity on its spacecraft to the moon. Moreover, the firm is talking to leading brands to use their logo on its lander and rover, looking at sponsorship as third route to raising the required capital.
“I think Team Indus came up at the right time and the right place and people could afford to give money as an investment or as an investment into the future. Whether or not this makes money, it creates an impact far larger than the money being put in. To me, that was the mindset a lot of folks came in with,” said Narayan.
Team Indus is aiming for a launch in by December 31, 2017 – the deadline for the competition. If it succeeds before the deadline, the Indian team could be the first private entity and the fourth space organisation to ever soft-land on the moon, with the three previous organisations being space agencies of the US, Russia and China.
SpaceIL from Israel, Moon Express from the US, Synergy Moon and Part-Time Scientists from Germany are in competition with Team Indus for the prize money of $30 million for the first entity to ever soft-land on the moon.
The mission to be launched as a dedicated payload on the PSLV rocket of Indian Space Research Organisation will follow the trajectory of the country’s first moon mission Chandrayaan.