The youthful Indian engineers took their seats, a bit nervously, in a makeshift conference room inside a cavernous former car-battery warehouse in Bangalore. Arrayed in front of them were several much older men and women, many of them gray-haired luminaries of India’s robust space program. The first Asian space agency to send an orbiter to Mars, it also nearly tripled a previous world record by launching 104 satellites into orbit in a single mission this past February. The object of everyone’s attention was a small rolling device barely the size of a microwave oven.
The members of the young crew explained their plans to blast the device into space aboard a rocket late this year, position it into lunar orbit nearly a quarter million miles away, guide it to a landing on the moon, and send it roaming across the harsh lunar landscape. The engineers of TeamIndus said their company would do all of this on a shoestring budget, probably $65 million, give or take, the vast majority of it raised from private investors.
A prominent Mumbai investor, Ashish Kacholia, who has put more than a million dollars into the firm, sat at the back of the room, transfixed by the discussion. It somehow combined the intense, rapid-fire questions of a doctoral thesis defense with the freewheeling, everybody’s-shouting, laughter-punctuated atmosphere of the Lok Sabha, India’s boisterous lower house of parliament. Kacholia hardly needed to be here all day to check up on this particular investment of his—far from his largest—but he stayed just to hear the erudite dialogue on selenocentric (moon-centered) orbit projections, force modeling, apogee and perigee, and the basis for how “the kids” drew up the error covariance matrix.