Bengaluru-based spacetech start-up Pixxel plans to launch 24 satellities in the next two years, a top company executive told businessline. Founded in 2019 by Awais Ahmed, the four-year old spacetech start-up is focussed on launching the first six of the 24-satellite constellation Fireflies in 2024 and 18 in 2025.
Pixxel was founded with a primary thesis that extant satellite data was not enough for advanced applications, which the start-up wanted to solve with hyperspectral imaging satellites, said Awais Ahmed, co-founder and CEO, Pixxel.
“We are a space data and analytics company. We are planning to launch world’s first hyperspectral satellite constellation of 24 more satellites starting next year and provide us with global coverage every day, which means we can cover every part on globe on a daily basis,” said Awais Ahmed, co-founder and CEO.
Some the biggest use cases for Pixxel are related to hyperspectral imagery for agriculture fertiliser makers, oil and gas companies, mines, and others. This data serves various purposes, including risk management, crop insurance, agricultural applications, and credit assessment.
Pixxel’s hyperspectral imaging satellites should be able to detect events and phenomena such as the invisible gas leaks, underground oil leaks, crop diseases and infestations, soil nutrient quality, and much more.
Hyperspectral imaging is a remote sensing technology, where an imaging spectrometer collects images at different wavelengths that go undetected in single-bandwidth imaging sensors. It is able to mark out areas on a satellite map using distinct colours in real-time and identify a wide spectrum of patterns.
The company has three satellites at present. While the spacetech start-up has launched 15 kg demo microsatellites so far, the first six satellites of the Fireflies series, set to launch in 2024, will weigh 50 Kg. The start-up plans to launch bigger satellites in the near future — even as large as 150 kg — to capture more data and cover wider use cases.
Pixxel’s imaging capabilities are 10X more than some of the other known names working in hyperspectral imaging today that deal with around 30 wavelengths. This allows the Indian company to capture data with more granularity and with a higher level of accuracy.
The company designs the satellities and nearly 50 per cent the work is done in India.
“We have a design team that has experienced doing this previously ISRO and other places and once we designed then the components come from around the globe. More than 50% of it is done in India, but there’s a significant portion about 40 per cent of it that has come from abroad because no one in India can completely built it in India,” he said.
The components that you use to build satellites are very unique, and there are only a few companies in the world that delves into components like that, he said.
“Most of our software is developed in house even though we procure some components all the designing and final integration and the final testing happens in Bangalore Facility. We do leverage some ISRO’s testing facilities, because they have a lot of infrastructure, but the designing, manufacturing, and testing is something that happens at our facility,” he added.
Headquartered in Bengaluru, Pixxel has another office in Los Angeles. From an employee count of 15 people in 2021, Pixxel today has grown to a size of around 140 employees and majority of its business today comes from the US and Europe.
Besides private organisations, Pixxel works in collaboration with various governments around the world. In India, the startup signed an MoU with the Union Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (DA&FW) to collaborate on the development of geospatial solutions for the Indian agriculture sector. In this collaboration, Pixxel’s hyperspectral dataset will be used to develop solutions focused on crop mapping, crop stage discrimination, and crop health monitoring.
The start-up competes with the global players like Planet Labs, Orbital Sidekick. Recently, Bengaluru-based space startup has raised $36 million in funding led by new investor Google. Other participants in the round included existing investors Radical Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Blume Ventures, growX, Sparta, and Athera Venture Partners.