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Business News/ Companies / Start-ups/  Space startups pin high hopes on upcoming space policy to reach global markets

Space startups pin high hopes on upcoming space policy to reach global markets

The policy will define the role of private firms in space missions, provide access to services owned by ISRO

Private entities didn’t develop space components for global market due to the need for large investments, fund shortage.  PtiPremium
Private entities didn’t develop space components for global market due to the need for large investments, fund shortage.  Pti

Indian startups are banking on an upcoming space policy that they hope will spur more partnerships between the public and private sectors and even drive expansions overseas.

This follows the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV)-C53 creating history by carrying payloads from two private Indian space startups to orbit last week in the first official public-private collaboration in the country’s space sector.

On 10 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the space policy will be announced soon. Modi was speaking at the inauguration of the new headquarters for the Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (In-Space). The policy is expected to define the role that private firms can play in space missions, provide access to infrastructure and services owned by ISRO, among others.

Prior to the government privatizing the space sector in June 2020, private companies did not have access to infrastructure of ISRO and other government space establishments. Private entities in the country were also not involved in developing space components for the global market as it requires large investments. The companies also struggled to raise funds to build adequate infrastructure.

Sanjay Nekkanti, chief executive officer of satellite services startup Dhruva Space, said the company expects increasing demand for satellite manufacturing, launches and ground operations from around the world, which represents a $20 billion annual market opportunity.

“We have already received commercial satellite manufacturing and deployment orders worth $3 million from global companies, and we’re still at a very early stage for commercial space operations. We’ll be launching our micro-satellite aboard the next ISRO mission, the PSLV-C54, following which we expect to scale up commercial satellite orders to a bulk scale in the next 12-18 months," he said.

To grow its operations, Dhruva is looking to tap existing infrastructure belonging to ISRO, namely the ISRO Nano Satellites (INS). Nekkanti said that this can help Dhruva build customized satellites based on an existing infrastructure, which will reduce cost.

Nano satellites such as the INS are affordable satellites that are typically deployed in low-earth orbits, and carry small payloads bearing private scientific experiments. Such satellites are expected to contribute to a bulk of future satellite launches globally.

Similarly, Bengaluru-based Bellatrix Aerospace is also in the fray to offer a range of satellite services to global customers. Yashas Karanam, CEO of Bellatrix, said the company offers two types of satellite services, which include an indigenous, electric satellite propulsion system, and a last-mile orbital connectivity for satellite deployment in orbit.

To build this, Karanam said the company has built local component sourcing for satellites with the aid of ISRO and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It is also looking to work with private space operators like US-based SpaceX and Rocket Labs to further bring down the cost of satellite deployment. It also plans to use a proprietary electric satellite propulsion system, which Karanam claimed can “significantly" reduce the cost of propulsion, thus making satellite launches more affordable.

Currently, the average cost of satellite deployment with a private operator like SpaceX is around $1,200 per pound of payload, and $10,000 per pound for Rocket Lab. While there are no official figures available, industry experts said that Isro’s PSLV costs about the same as Rocket Lab in terms of its per-pound cost of satellite deployment.

Indian startups, with their solutions, are looking to offer up to 30% lesser cost of satellite deployment with indigenous propulsion, launch and deployment solutions. Another Indian space startup, Astrogate Labs, is building a laser-based optical satellite communication framework for global deployment, which can help existing satellites upgrade data bandwidth and relay high throughput signals to ground stations, or for satellite-to-satellite communications. Nitish Singh, CEO of Astrogate, claimed that demand for such services comes from global markets, and the company has received expressions of interest from European satellite operators.

Further, Anil Prakash, director general of SatCom Industry Association of India (SIA-India), an industry body, said that the upcoming space policy would define transfer of technology regulations, enabling private startups to use existing ISRO’s infrastructure and build on it, which can streamline both costs and deployment time, and allow startups to scale.

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Shouvik Das
Shouvik Das is a science, space and technology reporter for Mint and TechCircle. In his previous stints, he worked at publications such as CNN-News18 and Outlook Business. He has also reported on consumer technology and the automobile sector.
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Published: 07 Jul 2022, 12:39 AM IST
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