By Srinath Srinivasan,
Bengaluru-based Astrogate Labs wants to change the way ground stations communicate with satellites in orbit. The startup, founded by Nitish Singh and Aditya Kedlaya, specialises in optical communication. “Optical communication involves beaming lasers to exchange information between the ground systems and satellites. It is a technology that is gaining acceptance rapidly due to its many advantages,” says Nitish Singh, co-founder, Astrogate Labs.
Traditionally, satellites use radio frequency or microwaves to communicate. This form of communication is prone to impact from various factors on ground and in the atmosphere. On top of this, these are also easily accessible and can be intercepted to steal information. “Optical communication is free from all these risks because the beams are narrow and so locating them and snooping on them becomes extremely difficult,” explains Singh. This is a very good proposition for smaller satellites as much as it is for larger ones. There is also significant cost savings in this method for satellite makers and operators. Astrogate has been working with both domestic and foreign customers and has recently raised an undisclosed amount in Series A funding.
The startup has demonstrated its prototype and has completed flight qualification tests for its downlink terminal which will reside in the satellite and communicate with the ground station. By the end of 2021, it aims to launch the system on board Space X’s Falcon 9, by partnering with Momentus Space, a US-based company which aims to provide infrastructure services necessary to enable enterprise and human existence to flourish in space. And, by 2022, Astrogate expects to have its first commercial downlink services in operation.
“The significance of what we do ties in to a larger vision of space exploration and setting up infrastructure in space. For that, secure and robust communication forms the basis,” he says. While this industry is in its nascent stages at this point in India, a few things are working in Singh’s favour, the most recent one being the government’s stance on allowing private players to operate in the space sector which will open up a host of opportunities, talent and access to experts for bigger projects within the country. The other major thing being Bengaluru having a cross-disciplinary talent base that is eager to work on new frontiers like space.
“In our business things get complex as we are dealing with a dynamic system —a moving satellite and a stationary ground station. For such complex design and operation, we need precision and I think the talent we have delivers on that. In addition, we also get a good feel of the global industry and that complements the learning here for our talent,” he says. Astrogate is also eager to get into defence and scientific applications post its first scheduled launch.