Shoot­ing for the stars

> Izmir Yamin hopes to get enough spon­sors to se­cure a 2017 launch date for the first Malaysian rover de­signed and de­vel­oped by his team


IN 2007, the Google Lu­nar XPrize (GLXP) was launched to chal­lenge en­gi­neers, in­no­va­tors and en­trepreneurs world­wide to de­velop the most ef­fec­tive low-cost meth­ods of ro­botic space ex­plo­ration.

More than 8,000 teams took part. Cur­rently, only 16 teams are left. Three teams have se­cured launch con­tracts for their craft while the oth­ers must se­cure their own launch con­tracts by the end of this year to re­main in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Among th­ese 13 teams is the only out­fit from South­east Asia, Malaysian-based In­de­pen­dence X, led by Izmir Yamin.

The team is named af­ter the com­pany that was set up for this project, In­de­pen­dence X Aero­space (IDXA).

In an in­ter­view with theSun, Izmir, now in his 30s, tells how his pas­sion for space travel be­gan at age seven when he watched a tele­vi­sion pro­gramme about a space shut­tle launch.

“Dur­ing that time … I kept ask­ing my­self why do they want to go into space?” he re­calls.

Go­ing through the en­cy­clo­pe­dias at home, Izmir was sur­prised to learn about the US space shut­tle pro­gramme’s con­tri­bu­tion to the fields of medicine and bio-tech in the form of vac­cines and an­tibi­otics.

“The best way to do [such stud­ies is] in a mi­cro-grav­ity en­vi­ron­ment and you can’t get mi­cro-grav­ity on Earth,” he says.

“That was why I de­cided to do science and maths al­though I was not very good in those sub­jects.”

Things came to a head when Izmir joined a state-level physics com­pe­ti­tion for sec­ondary schools.

While other teams were work­ing on projects like wa­ter tur­bines and mono­rails, Izmir pro­posed to his team to build a sim­ple bot­tle rocket, which was a rare project to un­der­take back then.

His team won the com­pe­ti­tion in true un­der­dog fash­ion. “We did not re­alise our im­pact un­til years later. Now, al­most every school has a bot­tle rocket com­pe­ti­tion,” Izmir says.

For him, that was the mo­ment his in­ter­est in science re­ally took off. To­day, he bal­ances his day job as a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer with his pas­sion for space travel.

“It is hard for a Malaysian to en­ter a highly-sen­si­tive in­dus­try like space ex­plo­ration in the US or Europe un­less you are a nat­u­ralised cit­i­zen of that coun­try,” he says.

“The only way to get in is to be highly ex­cep­tional, which I am not. I am still try­ing to get there.”

He adds that IDXA is in the midst of get­ting fund­ing for the launch of the In­de­pen­dence X rover – a lu­nar drone space­craft run­ning on the team’s own In­de­pen­dence-4 en­gine – in Au­gust 2017 by the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO)’s Po­lar Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle.

If all goes well, it will be the first Malaysian space­craft to be launched through ISRO. As Izmir ex­plains, “[we] de­vel­oped the tech­nol­ogy here [in Malaysia]”.

Al­most every com­po­nent of the craft is built by the team, ex­cept for the com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems. Even the test cham­bers are built by IDXA.

“We need € 23 mil­lion (RM106.6 mil­lion) for the project,” says Izmir, “€20 mil­lion (RM92.7 mil­lion) for the launch, and € 3 mil­lion (RM13.9 mil­lion) for lo­gis­tics and cost of the space­craft.”

He adds if suc­cess­ful, it will be the cheap­est launch pro­gramme to the Moon ever. “The cheap­est right now is In­dia’s Moon mis­sion Chan­drayaan 1 which cost € 80 mil­lion (RM370.85 mil­lion).”

But he laments they are nowhere near the amount and is cur­rently look­ing for fi­nan­cial back­ers, and the pos­si­bil­ity of crowd­fund­ing.

His roadmap is to con­tinue build­ing space­craft, right up to In­de­pen­dence 10. “[Hope­fully] when we reach In­de­pen­dence 10, it will be launch-ready and pro­vide launch ser­vices [for satel­lites to] dis­sem­i­nate ed­u­ca­tion to ru­ral ar­eas and, at the same time, pro­vide ser­vices for cor­po­ra­tions.”

He has al­ready come up with a de­sign for In­de­pen­dence 10, which he in­tends to call the Ded­i­cated Nano Launch Ve­hi­cle (DNLV).

This de­sign has al­ready been ac­cepted and pub­lished in Nasa’s Small Space­craft Tech­nol­ogy State of the Art Re­port (De­cem­ber 2015).

For more on the project and GLXP, visit the In­de­pen­dence X web­site.


Space dreams ... Izmir (left, right and inset above), seen here dur­ing a 2008 trip to Nasa for an en­gi­neer­ing as­tro­naut train­ing pro­gramme, is hop­ing to get fund­ing to launch the first Malaysian­made space­craft to the Moon.

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