On a pleasant spring morning outside Heathrow Terminal 2, excitement filled the air. Nick, Elliot and I had been working tirelessly for the past 6 months on our tiny yet all so important brainchild. While holding down full time jobs and university degrees we had made it to this point. We lined up in front of the airport terminal for one last photo, said our goodbyes and made our way on our 5000 mile journey.
We arrived in Bangalore with plenty of time to spare so firstly, we checked into our hotel, dropped off our things then went straight down to the lobby to meet our fellow competitors. After a while, Justin, one of the organisers of Lab2Moon from Team Indus, greeted and walked us down the busiest main road you could imagine. I’m talking duel carriageway with 6 lanes each side which somehow fit 10 lanes of traffic. There were countless vehicles ranging from cyclists to Lorries all weaving in and out of each other perfectly like water flowing down a river. Around 500m later, at a set of crossroads he led us down an unassuming side-street and through a gate guarded by a guy sitting on a plastic garden chair. It’s fair to say this was the last place we expected the next moon landing to originate from. We walked through the doors and straight up into a large communal room for a formal introduction to the 14 other teams and the Lab2Moon judges.
The remainder of the day was dedicated to preparing for the competition so we decided to spend our time at the Team Indus campus working on the final touches to the LunaDome prototype. We were lucky enough to have a look around the assembly room which housed full scale models of the lunar rover and lander. We also had a chat to some of the Team Indus employees including our assigned mentor, Hari who we had only previously spoken to in a few emails and WhatsApp messages. Hari’s expertise lie in electronics, his main responsibility is with the rover’s communication with the lander. He was happy to help out with our preparations, letting us use anything we needed to make our final adjustments (which involved adding an entire circuit board to the experiment!). Working into the night, we finally finished the electronics and were ready to tackle the first day of the Lab2Moon final.
The competition was split into three days of pitching and Q&A sessions each focusing on different aspects of the project. The topics ranged from social media exposure and STEM outreach to technical descriptions, demonstrations and proof of compliance with the payload constraints. Our first presentation was a surreal experience, having to strap microphones onto our shirts, walk into a quiet conference room and introduce ourselves to some of the biggest names in the space industry then proceed to talk about a project we literally thought up at our kitchen table in Yeovil one day after work.
The media presence was much more significant than we had expected. We were constantly being called into conference rooms with newspaper reporters to explain our experiment and how we were finding the competition. Since we already did a few radio and TV interviews in the UK during the lead up to the finals, we were pretty happy speaking to everyone.
When we arrived on the final day, we found the large conference room we had begun in was converted into a presenting room with many rows of chairs on either side. This was clearly going to be the busiest and most important pitch of the week. Today we were presenting our experiment to the entire Lab2Moon cohort – the judges, all the finalists and Team Indus. Luckily since we presented early in the previous days, we were one of the later starters today so we had plenty of time to rehurse. We spoke about the technicalities of the experiment – something we had done countless times in the past – so we were quietly confident. We pitched clearly and to the point, then the floor opened to questions which we answered well, then we passed around the prototype. We sensed that the judges were impressed – it was an amazing feeling. After all the remaining teams had finished pitching, we all gathered for the prize giving when the winners were declared. Despite our disappointment at not finishing in the top two teams, our experiment will still be flying to the moon. I think this image sums our emotions up perfectly.
Our overall experience of India was incredible. We met so many amazing people and also had the chance to travel around the city of Bangalore and experience the culture. On behalf of the LunaDome team I would like to thank Team Indus for being so welcoming and giving us this opportunity. We look forward to working closely with them in the future!
By Sam Brass
LunaDome Team Lead