India’s space sector has scaled a new peak on Friday with the successful launch of the country’s first-ever private rocket—Vikram-S Suborbital Flight (Prarambh mission) from Sounding Rocket Complex in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.

“Mission Prarambh is successfully accomplished. Congratulations @SkyrootA (Skyroot Aerospace) and Congratulations India,” said a tweet by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In a text book launch, the Hyderabad-based space start-up Skyroot Aerospace’s rocket Vikram-S with three small satellites blasted off the small launcher at the Satish Dhawan Space Research Centre, Sriharikota, at 11.30 am.

Due to foggy weather, the tiny rocket was not visible to the naked eye. After a few seconds of the launch, the smoke from the rocket was only visible from the terrace of the media centre.

Weighing 545-kg and 6-metre tall, the rocket left the launcher to reach the apogee of 89.5 km (and 115.8 km from the shore) at 139.93 seconds. It took a turn and had a splashdown in the Bay of Bengal at 290.97 seconds.

The flight was launched to prove avionics systems in Vikram series like telemetry, tracking, inertial measurement, GPS, on-board camera, data acquisition and power systems.

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The success will pave the way for similar launches by private players in the coming years. The Chennai-based Agnikul Cosmos plans to have a test launch of its rocket in December from Sriharikota.

The ‘Prarambh’ mission carried three customer payloads of two Indian and one foreign customer equipped with sensors for the measurement of acceleration and pressure.

The mission’s aim was to launch Vikram–S (VKS), a single-stage solid fuelled sub-orbital rocket into space. The launch vehicle has been named ‘Vikram-S’ as a tribute to the father of the Indian space programme, the late Vikram Sarabhai.

It took nearly two years for Skyroot to build the rocket using carbon composite structures and 3D-printed components. Founded by Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka in 2018, the company has 200 employees, and is the largest private space start-up in India with ₹526 crore raised as capital till date.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh was present in the mission control room to witness the historic launch.

The gallery was filled with anxious employees of Skyroot, and included ISRO chairman S Somanath, former ISRO chairman AS Kiran Kumar and Pawan Goenka, Chairman, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), Department of Space (DOS), the space regulator.

Historic moment

“This is a new beginning for the Indian private sector entering into space and a historic moment for all of us,“ IN-SPACe Chairman said while announcing the mission’s success from the mission control.

“It is heart-warming to see how the Indian industry is participating in the space sector in the last one year. InSpace has already received 150 applications and more than 15 MoUs have been signed with the private sector. Four missions have already been executed and two missions, including one from Chennai-based Agnikul, are planned in 4-8 weeks,” Goenka told newspersons after the launch.

“In the last 9-10 months, Indian space sector witnessed an investment of $110 millionr,” he added.

Boost for start-ups

On the successful mission, Minister Singh said, “Congratulations India. It is indeed a new beginning, a new dawn and shall I say very appropriately as a new Prarambh in the journey of India’s space programme. Very many thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has made this effort possible by opening up the space sector to public-private participation.”

The success is a major step towards India developing its own space ecosystem and emerging as a frontline nation in the community of world nations. This is also a turning point in India’s start-up movement. Well done team Skyroot, he added.

Skyroot co-founders worked day-and-night to make this possible, and of course kudos to ISRO, the Minister said.

“You have this day, on the 18th November 2022 added yet one feather into your much decorated hat. Thanks ISRO for putting India as a frontline nation. In the years to come, other nations would look forward to India for vital cues in the journey of the space sector,” he said.

The minister observed that this success is a turning point for the start-up movement of India.

As India marches towards its 100 years of independence in the next 25 years, the energy, passion and the capacity of the youngsters will make the difference. “Our responsibility is to help them build up the capacities,” he said.

(L-R) Skyroot co-founders Pawan Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka with Vikram-S rocket in the background

(L-R) Skyroot co-founders Pawan Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka with Vikram-S rocket in the background | Photo Credit: Skyroot’s Twitter handle

Pawan Chandana, Mission Director for Prarambh and one of the co-founders of Skyroot Aerospace, said, “We scripted history today by launching India’s first privately developed rocket Vikram-S. The vehicle reached space with an altitude of 89.5 km and completed the required mission objectives. This mission is the beginning of a new era in the Indian space ecosystem.” This mission not only symbolises India’s first private rocket launch, it also symbolises the potential of new India, he added.