Incubated by IIT-Madras, Bengaluru-based space start-up Galaxeye Space has flown a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) it developed on a High-Altitude Platform (HAP) made by National Aerospace Laboratories, a public-funded research laboratory based in Pune. 

HAPs are like big drones (pictured). They can be moved or made to hover over a certain country or region. They can be homed at about 18 km above Earth, broadly where the atmosphere ends and space begins. They are (typically) solar-powered and can carry payloads up to 40 kg. In India, NAL has been developing HAPs. 

The HAP holding Galaxeye’s SAR flew at an altitude of 8 km on May 7 and 8. 

Team Galaxeye

Team Galaxeye

Suyash Singh, Co-founder, Galaxeye, said that the start-up had developed a SAR, which is a sort of camera. Unlike optical cameras, SARs can see through cloud and vegetation cover, to picture the ground below. India’s space agency, ISRO, has flown SARs earlier. It may be remembered that ISRO, and the US space agency, NASA, have jointly developed a giant SAR, called NISAR (for NASA-ISRO SAR), which will be sent up to space, later this year. 

Singh told businessline on Monday that Galaxeye is developing SARs for drones, HAPs and satellites. The company, backed by Speciale Invest, a PE fund, is in the business of selling both images and data. It is also getting into ‘edge computing’, where a part of the processing of the data happens right where the data is generated, as opposed to a server elsewhere. Space-based edge computing has advantages. However, Singh said that the 5 kg prototype SAR flown aboard the NAL HAP was not fitted with edge computing capabilities—only a prototype. 

“We see a lot of demand for SARs,” Singh said. These are immediately for use in defence and civil applications such as disaster management and surveillance.  

HAPs are cheaper compared with satellites. They can also be used for telecommunications and broadband delivery—particularly where building terrestrial cable networks is economically unviable. HAPs are many types – balloons, airships and unmanned aerial vehicles. There are not many HAP companies in the world. Those in business today include Israel Aviation Industries Ltd, Lindstrand Technologies, ILC Dover LP, Raytheon, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Lockheed Martin.