UAE’s maiden Moon mission has a Namma Chennai connection – Moneycontrol

Chennai News

United Arab Emirates’ maiden Moon landing attempt has an Indian connection. The structure of Rashid Rover, the vehicle that will traverse the surface of the Moon has been made by Chennai-based startup ST Advanced Composites.

Devendra Thirunavukarasu, the founder of the eight-year-old company, told Moneycontrol that the structure was developed in Chennai for two years using carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), magnesium alloy, and aluminium.

On December 11, the rover set course for the Moon, riding aboard a SpaceX rocket in a lander built by Japan’s Ispace. It is slated to reach its destination in two months.

Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates Rashid Al Maktoum said on December 15 that Rashid Rover sent its first message to the space centre in Al Khawaneej from a distance of 440,000 kilometres from Earth.

Orbit_1.4mil_en_smaller-1200x675Trajectory of Rashid Rover which is sitting inside a lander made by Japan’s Ispace

“All the devices and systems of the explorer are working properly and it will begin to enter the orbit of the Moon in preparation for landing during coming months,” Mohammed said.

This development comes at a time when the Indian space tech startup ecosystem has gained significant momentum, fueled by recent launches by players such as Hyderabad-based space tech startup Skyroot Aerospace, which became the country’s first private player to launch for space, and satellite launches by companies such as Bengaluru-based Pixxel and Hyderabad’s Dhruva Space.

90% made in Chennai

“Around 90 percent of the Rashid Rover has been made by us. This includes its structure, wheels, solar panels, camera holder and so on,” Thirunavukarasu said, adding that nearly 40 components were made by them.

1670744287760Parts such as wheels, solar panels and so on made by ST Advanced Composites

The rover is equipped with sensors that will test the soil to see if it contains moisture content after landing on the moon and carry out many other operations, he said.

ST Advanced Composites initiated the development of the Rashid Rover at the end of December 2020.

“After getting the contract from UAE, we started discussions on the structure — its optimisation, material thickness and so on. And by 2021 end, we manufactured a ground test model,” he said.

1670744288186Various components of Rashid Rover that were made by ST Advanced Composites

Thirunavukarasu explained that the ground test model was tested in various locations around the world, including France and the United States.

“Considering that it was going be on the Moon, they tested for various conditions and deployed various methods,” he said.

The production of the actual flight model was then given the go-ahead, and according to Thirunavukarasu, it was finished by June 2022.

Due to the fact that it was a UAE government mission, the company avoided many supply chain issues that other private space technology companies faced at the time.

“Supply chain was not an issue because they are a government agency. There are flights from Chennai to Dubai every day and weight was also not an issue,” he explained.

ISRO and further work

To be clear, this isn’t ST Advanced Composites’ first time in space, but it is their first time on the Moon. The company has collaborated with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other private-sector players in the country.

“We are trying to get an opportunity from ISRO for a bigger project. We are working on Chandrayaan 2 and Mangalyaan and few other projects. We are working with a private satellite manufacturer too,” he explained.