To infinity and beyond: Indian space startups lift off in style | The Financial Express

To infinity and beyond: Indian space startups lift off in style

ISRO is one of the six biggest space agencies in the world due to its mission to use space technologies to benefit the general public and the country.

To infinity and beyond: Indian space startups lift off in style
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In the past decade, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been the face of the domestic space industry. In a brewing startup ecosystem that now boasts more than 100 unicorns; the lack of startups in the space industry has been felt for a while.

ISRO’s 2014 mission was worth only USD 74 million and was a huge success. Now, the space startup scene in India is finally blowing up. Recently, a Telangana startup, Skyroot, attracted US$ 51 million in funding. This is only a short time after another Bengaluru-based Pixxel became the then highest funded USD 25 million in funding.

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ISRO is one of the six biggest space agencies in the world due to its mission to use space technologies to benefit the general public and the country. For the ever-increasing demand for quick and dependable communication and earth observation, respectively, ISRO operates one of the largest fleets of INSAT communication satellites and IRS remote sensing satellites. Disaster management tools, geographic information systems, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, are among the few tools and products ISRO develops for the country.

Riding on the robust startup ecosystem and ISRO’s positive approach towards the private sector, Indian space startups have actively embraced the challenge of becoming global leaders. As the industry grows to be as large as USD 1 trillion, with such a robust environment for innovation, India is expected to move towards new frontiers.

Popular But No Piece of the Pie: India amidst $360 Billion Global Space Economy

The government recently informed the Lok Sabha that the country’s share in the global space industry is about 2 per cent. India has been able to develop technologies indigenously for earth observation, satellite communication, meteorology, space science and navigation. The space agency has been making strides in various domains: space transportation, space tourism, space launch vehicles, etc.

The government reasons inertia in the private sector versus global private leaders like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic. This inertia has restricted the domestic private players to remain merely feeders into the various ISRO projects as vendors or suppliers.

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To change the status quo, there have been deliberate measures in policy and practice. Six startups have been awarded up to Rs 50 lakh in different areas such as geospatial information, augmented reality, virtual reality and propulsion and reality.

Under the flagship startup foster programme — Atal Innovation Mission, to get project proposals from space startups. Under ANIC ARISE 1.0, any startup can take up geospatial information propulsion, robotics, augmented reality and virtual reality.

Also, several steps to deregulate the private space industry in June 2020 have been undertaken by the government. The Department of Space (DoS) formed the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (INSPACe) to incubate technologies into private, non-governmental entities or NGPEs.

Also Read: Financial Express Online Exclusive: ISRO Chairman keen on cooperation with Latin American and Caribbean nations

The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) has been established as the promoter and regulator of space activities in India by non-governmental and private entities, as well as New Space India Limited (NSIL), the nation’s first public sector undertaking in the space sector, as part of these reforms.

Due to the developments in the space industry, a model driven by demand has been developed, in which the NSIL functions as an aggregator of customer requirements and secures commitments. Additionally, it was announced that the PSLV C-51 launched four student spacecraft and that five private satellites had been tested at ISRO facilities.

In 2021, the Indian Space Association (ISpA) in 2021 was set up to welcome startups and the business sector into the country’s space industry. This organisation’s founding members include several private businesses, including Larsen & Toubro, Nelco (Tata Group), OneWeb, MapmyIndia, and Walchandnagar Industries.

How is the Indian private space industry growing?

With the advent of global private players like SpaceX, Blue Origins and Virgin Galactic, the Indian space startups have been working hard and taking advantage of a worldwide space leader like the ISRO.

According to a Morgan Stanley report, it is estimated that by 2040, the global space industry will be worth US$ 1 trillion. It further states the drivers of the new space ecosystem will be satellite launch, satellite internet, deep space exploration, lunar landing, earth observation, asteroid mining, space debris, space tourism, space research and manufacturing.

Digantara Research and Technologies, a Karnataka-based startup, will build a Space Situational Awareness (SSA) observatory in Uttarakhand. This will enable them to track Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO) satellites and space debris. As the first indigenous offering, it will build an entirely Indian data pool that can be leveraged for civil and military applications.

Launch vehicles

Four companies including Agnikul, Skyroot, Dhruva and Pixxel. Pixxel and Skyroot have set industry records for the highest foreign investment at US$ 25 million and US$ 51 million, respectively. According to information available in the public domain, all four are in the process of developing launch vehicles for commercial payloads. India’s first privately developed completely cryogenic rocket engine, the “Dhawan I,” was successfully tested by Skyroot Aerospace, founded and directed by former ISRO scientists.

Bellatrix Aerospace is working on an electric thruster. It was successful in privately developing a hall-effect thruster that provides a reliable propulsion solution for small satellites.

Another Indian space firm, Astrogate Labs, is developing a laser-based optical satellite communication framework for widespread deployment. This framework will enable satellite-to-satellite communications as well as the improvement of data bandwidth on current satellites.

Team Indus is a privately owned, for-profit aerospace firm with its headquarters in Bengaluru, (incorporated as Axiom Research Labs). It comprises a group of experts from various fields in science, technology, finance, and media who joined forces in 2010 to win the Google Lunar X Prize competition announced in 2007. For its aim to land a spacecraft on the moon, the startup signed a commercial launch contract with ISRO in December 2016.

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