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When you think of companies that are revolutionizing the space industry, one often thinks of companies such as Space X, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic.

But what if I told you that there were companies right here in India who were doing just as exciting work as these companies?

Companies that were building rockets, launch vehicles and satellites, with the latest technology and all at a fraction of the cost.

India’s space tech industry, although at a nascent stage, is doing incredible work.

The sector has also received increasing investor interest thanks to a number of policy changes and government initiatives.

Funds raised. 
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Funds raised. 

With the global space economy poised to grow over US$2 tn in the next two decades, the Indian space tech industry is slated to contribute immensely to this growth.

Here are the top 3 Indian companies dabbling in the space race.

#1 Agnikul Cosmos

Founded in 2016, Agnikul Cosmos is an IIT Madras incubated space tech start-up currently working on developing its own small-lift launch vehicle called Agnibaan, capable of placing a 100 kg payload into a 700 km orbit.

Driven by LOX/Kerosene engines in all its stages, Agnibaan is configurable by the customer.

Yes, Agnibaan doesn’t fly with the same number of engines all the time. The mission, the satellite and the launch port decide how many engines go on the first stage.

Agnikul Cosmos's Agnibaan
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Agnikul Cosmos's Agnibaan

The launch vehicle will be manufactured using 3D printing for which Agnikul has signed an MoU with EOS India, a global leader in 3D printing technology.

The first commercial launch is expected in 2022. The start-up recently test-fired a fully 3D printed semi-cryo rocket engine.

In May 2021, Agnikul raised US$11 m in a Series A funding. It previously raised US$ 3.1 m in May 2020 from institutional investors and a seed round of funding from Speciale Invest in 2019.

It has also received an investment from industrialist Anand Mahindra.

#2 Skyroot Aerospace 

Similar to Agnikul, Skyroot Aerospace is building rockets for launching payloads (satellites for now and in future humans as well) to space.

The startup has been actively developing its Vikram series of launch vehicles for the past two years.  The series is named after the father of the Indian Space program – Dr Vikram Sarabhai.

It’s plan in the near term is to commercialise Vikram-1 and roll out the follow-on variants Vikram-2 and 3.

These are essentially the same with a 20% upgrade but together cover the largest payload ranges from launching 1 kg to 700 kg of satellites. This is not possible using existing vehicles in the market.

It’s targeting the first orbital launch of Vikram 1 around mid-2022.

Launch vehicles - Skyroot Aerospace
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Launch vehicles - Skyroot Aerospace

It has already test-fired a solid propulsion rocket engine named Kalam-5. A scaled-up version will be built and tested at ISRO’s facilities before powering the Vikram rocket by December 2021.

The startup has raised US$11 m in its series A round of funding. It had previously raised US$1.5 m in 2018.

On the start-up’s board of directors, sits the Solar Group, a major space and defence supplier. Other notable investors include former WhatsApp global business chief Neeraj Arora, and Myntra and CureFit founder Mukesh Bansal.

#3 Pixxel

While Agnikul and Skyroot Aerospace are building launch vehicles, Pixxel is aiming to put a constellation of more than 30 earth observation micro-satellites in space.

The startup primarily focuses on two things - developing the technology and setting up the infrastructure to build a constellation of satellites. The startup also has a machine learning platform to mine actionable insights from data.

Pixxel’s satellite constellation can provide global coverage every 24-hours, to detect, monitor, and predict global phenomena.

Satellite imagery and remote sensing data are invaluable tools for use cases such as weather, agriculture, commodities, and insurance.

Pixxel’s satellite constellation can provide global coverage every 24-hours, to detect, monitor, and predict global phenomena.
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Pixxel’s satellite constellation can provide global coverage every 24-hours, to detect, monitor, and predict global phenomena.

Pixxel had planned to launch its first satellite ‘Anand’ in February 2021 but the launch was shelved for technical reasons. 

Going ahead, the space tech startup plans to deploy the first phase of a constellation, consisting of six to eight satellites by December 2022. It will deploy the entire constellation by December 2023. 

In March 2021, the startup raised $7.3 m in its seed round. It had raised close to $5 m in August 2020 from existing investors and is already in talks to raise another US$15–20 m after the launch of its first satellite in space.

Fundraising by Indian tech startups 
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Fundraising by Indian tech startups 

Why is the space sector exciting right now?

In May 2020, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the inclusion of private players in the space sector. 

Following this, the Union Cabinet announced the formation of an autonomous agency, IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre), an extension of ISRO, to help private players in space-related activities and regulate private tech innovation in the space. 

With these policy changes and reforms, the sector is now seeing growing participation of private players in a domain that until now was largely under government control.

As a result, India now has around 100 active space tech start-ups. However, they are not alone. With the space sector energised, heavyweights are also showing renewed interest. 

India’s telecom czar Sunil Bharti Mittal is putting his wealth and credibility behind broadband from space. The Tatas have also revived their telecom ambitions and are getting into satellite communication.

Sensing the opportunity, global tech giants have also come forward to help India charts its new space journey.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is the cloud arm of Amazon, is interested in helping the country transform the space sector with its data storage and cutting-edge solutions and tap into the multi-billion dollar market.

With these exciting developments, the Indian space tech industry is at the early stage of a space revolution. It is only a matter of time before India has its own SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.

(This article is syndicated from Equitymaster.com)

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