Barely a week after unveiling Vikram-1, a rocket capable of deploying multiple satellites in orbit, on October 30 the start-up Skyroot Aerospace announced a $27.5-million pre-Series C fundraising round led by Temasek. The Hyderabad-based company also threw open its new headquarters, a state-of-the-art facility for the design, manufacture, and testing of advanced space launch vehicles.
The national agency Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has long been synonymous with India’s space programme, with the private sector mainly serving as vendors and suppliers of components and sub-systems.
This is changing rapidly in recent times, with over 200 spacetech companies today vying to provide services ranging from satellite launches to remote sensing and data analytics solutions. Their customers are spread across industries, including the global mining sector, energy sector, agritech, and communications.
And there has been no dearth of funding, either.
Space for investment
Private investment in the Indian space sector surged by nearly 17 per cent between 2021 and 2022, according to data from private intelligence platform Tracxn. In 2023 alone, the sector attracted investment of $122 million, making it the seventh most funded globally, Tracxn added.
Chennai-based AgniKul Cosmos, recently armed with nearly $27 million through a Series B fundraise, wants to commercialise its launch vehicle technology.
The company’s two-stage launch vehicle Agnibaan can carry up to 300 kg to the lower earth orbit (LEO).
Its patented single-piece engines — seven in the first stage and one in the second stage — are 3D-printed at its facility, named Rocket Factory-1, at the IIT-Madras Research Park.
“Our clients are spread across the imaging [satellite imaging or remote sensing] and communication sectors,” says Srinath Ravichandran, co-founder and CEO of AgniKul. “There is a growing need for new space applications such as mobility and data storage in space. The client base is global, as space is a global business; we see extensive demand from European and Japanese customers,” he adds.
Among the other spacetech start-ups that recently garnered big-ticket investments are the Bengaluru-based SatSure ($15 million in August), which uses third-party satellite imagery to provide business insights, and Google-backed Pixxel ($36-million Series B funding in June), which manufactures and operates advanced imaging satellites.
Vipul Patel, Partner-Seed Investments at start-up incubator IIMA-CIIE, credits the rapid evolution in the Indian space industry to a combination of factors, including government support, a growing demand for satellite services, and the emergence of private players
At the same time, he says, “Developing space technology requires substantial capital, and start-ups often face difficulties in raising it.”
Business in higher orbit
Currently, Indian spacetech companies are engaged in miniaturisation and cost-effective satellite manufacturing techniques. Additionally, they are pioneering reusability in the launch process and developing cutting-edge software and data analytics solutions.
Bengaluru-based Pixxel’s hyperspectral satellite capture imaging — which can locate, sort, or quantify the concentration of various materials that are invisible to common cameras or the human eye — aims to function as a ‘health monitor’ for the planet, by tracking climate-related risks such as floods and wildfires.
Its 50-plus customers include global mining company Rio Tinto and agritech company DataFarming.
“We plan to expand our presence and clientele through a global reseller base, set up a sales office in Europe in the near term, as well as expand to places like Japan and Australia. We plan to tailor our offerings to the financial services sector, as also develop a series of agricultural and environmental insights data products powered by our hyperspectral data,” says Awais Ahmed, founder and CEO, Pixxel.
Another Bengaluru-based spacetech company, Bellatrix Aerospace delivers its customers’ satellites to the precision orbits of choice. Its product range covers the entire spectrum of mission-specific requirements, from a tiny nano-satellite to a heavy satellite for a geostationary platform or GEO-mission.
“Our client base includes satellite manufacturers, owners and operators. However, with our products inching closer to commercialisation, we expect to enter the European and US markets,” says Yashas Karanam, co-founder at Bellatrix Aerospace.
The global space market that these budding Indian enterprises are eyeing hungrily is worth $360 billion, of which the country’s share is just 2 per cent. To help grow this to 9 per cent by 2030, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) was set up in 2020 as a second nodal agency (after ISRO) operating autonomously under the Department of Space. The easing of bureaucratic hurdles is seen to have boosted investments in the spacetech sector.
The wait now is for these start-ups to rocket into the league of global biggies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Arianespace, which have revolutionised the space sector with their breakthrough technologies.