June 7, 2017 blog

To the moon and back

Tata Communications is helping TeamIndus, India's only competitor in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, in their mission to the moon

As official connectivity partners of TeamIndus – India's only competitor in the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE– Tata Communications is helping with their mission to the moon, where a specially designed Rover will show us the lunar surface in a live 'moon-cast'.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE challenges privately funded teams to safely land a spacecraft on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and transmit high-definition video, images and data back to Earth. It's the perfect platform for TeamIndus to lead India into the next generation of space exploration and aviation technology.

Caution robot
The moon is a pretty inhospitable place, even for machines. Temperatures range from a blistering 150-degrees Celsius at their hottest to minus 180 degrees during the interminable lunar night. (One day lasts nearly a month on the moon, because it rotates a lot slower than the Earth). It also has a pretty treacherous surface: the main features are impact craters, dead volcanoes and fossilised lava streams.

That means that TeamIndus’s Rover needs to be very careful about where it’s driving. The four wheels are individually powered and contain 10 electrical motors. Dedicated hazard cameras on the front of the vehicle look directly at the next few metres ahead, while the main cameras are taking in the view, and all the while, more than 30 health monitoring sensors look out for any signs of trouble.

Despite all this technology, it’s a compact piece of machinery though, measuring just 0.8m x 0.6m x 0.4m, which helps keep the weight down to just 20kg, under a tenth of the weight of the Apollo Rover from the early 1971 US mission.

The new Lunar Rover created by TeamIndus will take 360-degree HD videos and still pictures, as well as collect data about the moon’s surface. But you won’t have to wait long to see them. It will take just 1.26 seconds to transmit data from the lander vessel that remains in orbit round the moon to the communications station back here on Earth. That’s a 380,000km trip each way, a distance 30 times the diameter of the Earth itself.

During the mission, all data from the lander vessel and the Lunar Rover will be routed to the Tata Communications data centre in Bangalore, India, which hosts TeamIndus’s computational and analytics resources. The command centre at TeamIndus then uses this data to remotely control the mission, sending commands back up to space using dedicated connectivity to the tracking stations.

Even before launch, TeamIndus is using our facility for computationally intensive planning and analytics to test out space flight scenarios and conduct detailed engineering simulations to ensure that all goes well.

The pictures and video won’t just stay in the data centre though. TeamIndus will use the state-of-the-art Tata Communications Global Content Delivery Network to deliver a live stream to media outlets across the world so that all of us can tune into the Rover’s expedition — making use of Tata Communications’ round-the-world undersea cable network to get the data out It will actually be the first live stream from the moon – a space communications landmark event that is set to join historic moments such as the first Earthrise photos from 1968 and the amazing recent images from the Rosetta mission to Comet 67P that were revealed this September.

A low latency legacy
TeamIndus doesn’t view this as a one-off event either, but as the start of a better understanding of our closest space neighbour, the moon. It has largely remained unexplored since the 1970s, and the team believes that we don’t yet know nearly enough about this natural satellite.

Rahul Narayan, who is the Team Leader at TeamIndus, told us, “At TeamIndus, our motto is to aspire, believe and create, and without the support from the industry, it is very difficult to achieve that. Tata Communications is our official communications partner and they are literally helping us communicate all the way to the moon and back, which is mission critical in our venture. We appreciate the belief they have in our project and are very pleased to have them on board.

“Their long-range communication expertise and low latency connectivity between ground tracking stations is not only mission-critical but a huge contributor to the future of space exploration.”

TeamIndus expects to be able to launch its moon-shot in 2017, so look out for more updates on its Facebook and Twitter accounts.


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