Hoping that the country would soon become a manufacturing hub of space assets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in December last year that the decision to unlock India’s potential in the space sector has heralded a new age of public-private partnership.
Inspired by these words, the spacetech startups in India have kicked off the journey to take a big leap in the near future.
The government opened up the space sector in June last year and created the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) that is working as a link between the ISRO and private companies that wants to participate in space-related activities or use India’s space resources.
While homegrown private earth imaging company Pixxel has closed $7.3 million (nearly Rs 53 crore) seed round and is working on two satellites to send to space this year, the Department of Space (DoS) has signed a pact with Chennai-based small rocket company Agnikul Cosmos to access the facilities and technical expertise available at the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) centres.
According to Awais Ahmed, Founder and CEO, Pixxel, with the radical liberalisation of space reforms, the government is providing growing impetus to spacetech startups like Pixxel.
“Pixxel’s rich satellite imagery will help tackle multiple issues across sectors like agriculture, environment, natural disasters, urban monitoring etc. that the government itself will be a beneficiary of. In addition to the high-quality imagery our satellite will provide, we are also building a platform for customers to analyse this data for various purposes, enabling them to become self-reliant,” the 23-year-old entrepreneur said.
The Bengaluru-based startup plans to deploy a total of 30 satellites by December 2022 for its global constellation.
“The main focus for now is to get the entire constellation up there. Once it is fully deployed, it will enhance the capacity and resources of the space sector and ensure the benefits of space are brought down to earth for everyone in the country,” Ahmed noted.
Founded in 2019 by Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, while studying at the Birla Institiute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pixxel was the only Asian participant selected to be a part of the ‘Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator’, where it worked with NASA JPL, US Air Force, Lockheed Martin and Maxar, among others.
As VC funds now warming up to the Indian spacetech startups, Agnikul raised over $4 million last year while Pune-based Vesta Space Technology has also raised $10 million from US-based Next Capital LLC.
Agnikul Cosmos is now looking at overseas rocket ports to launch its rocket with small satellites apart from the Indian rocket launch centers.
“Our first preference is to use Indian rocket ports at Sriharikota or the upcoming one at Kulasekarapattinam in Tamil Nadu (both belonging to the Indian Space Research Organisation). If the customer prefers the launch to happen from some other country, we will ship the rocket and launch from there,” Srinath Ravichandran, co-founder and CEO, Agnikul Cosmos, said.
The company is hopeful for the debut launch of its rocket ‘Agnibaan’ next year which is capable of taking up to 100 kgs payload to orbit around 700 kms high.
According to ISRO chief K Sivan, the market size of the global space sector is about $350 billion, and India shares less than three per cent of the market. He had emphasised that if the ISRO continues to remain the sole player in the space sector, the India market share will not improve.
Sensing the opportunity, global tech giants have come forward to help India chart its new space journey.
Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is the Cloud arm of Amazon, aims to help the country transform its space sector and tap into the multi-billion-dollar market.
“We’ll be listening to ISRO and our partners in India in terms of what we can provide them but from everything we know, they need humongous data storage and to make sense of huge space datasets, they need edge computing and have to work on their virtual mission operations just like NASA is doing,” Teresa Carlson, Vice President for Public Sector and Regulated Industries, AWS, said.
The government is also working on a new launch vehicle policy and a space exploration policy while the existing Satellite Communication Policy and Remote Sensing Data Policy are being amended to make it more transparent.
The time is now ripe for the corporate giants like AWS to step in and provide tailor-made solutions to transform the spacetech startup ecosystem in the country.