As ISRO launches its 100th satellite, meet the Indian startups aiming for the stars
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) marked an important milestone today (January 12) as it launched its 100th satellite into space. As the organisation successfully launched its first mission of 2018 (and its first in four months), it’s clear we have come a long way from the days of the first Indian satellite Aryabhata (1975). Over the last 40+ years, ISRO has grown from strength to strength, breaking barriers and defying expectations every step of the way.
This exponential growth and expansion have also fuelled the dreams of many entrepreneurs who are eager to explore the boundless expanses of space. As Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and other organisations redefine space travel in the modern age, several homegrown startups are also taking flight with lofty ambitions. We take a look at the Indian startups and entrepreneurs who are eagerly pushing for the dawn of a new space age in India.
Arguably the most well-known space startup in India, Bengaluru-based Team Indus is in a league of its own. As the only Indian startup to be a finalist for Google’s Lunar X Prize, Team Indus hopes to land its in-house-built all-terrain rover ECA on the moon by March 2018. The team has raised funding from a bunch of investors, including Infosys Co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Tata Sons Emeritus Chairman Ratan Tata, and Flipkart Co-founders Sachin and Binny Bansal. However, the team has reportedly struggled to raise enough money to meet the Rs 450 crore mark needed for its launch, leading to its deal with ISRO for a commercial launch falling through recently. The team is currently looking for launch partners overseas as well as exploring crowdfunding options to meet its funding target.
Arguably India’s “first space startup”, Earth2Orbit was set up in 2008 by Susmita Mohanty to provide “launch advisory services”. In 2016, Susmita reworked the company into Earth2Orbit Analytix, a company that uses earth observation and analytics to provide “actionable intelligence” for sectors ranging from environment and agriculture to development of smart cities.
Bengaluru-based Dhruva Space is another early player in the space entrepreneurship space in India. Three friends – Sanjay Nekkanti, Narayan Prasad, and Abhishek Raju – came together in 2012 to set up the company, which tackles primarily small satellite launch systems and devices. The company has collaborated with various national and international organisations from the space sector, including Germany’s Berlin Space Technologies and Australia’s Saber Astronautics. Dhruva Space collaborated with AMSAT India in 2014 to launch the HAMSAT-II satellite in 2014 to serve “the societal needs in disaster management, amateur/emergency radio communications and education.”
Satellite technology has many applications, including the use of satellites to offer high-speed internet connectivity in even the most remote areas. Realising the need for such tech in India, Neha Satak set up Astrome Technologies in 2014 in India with assistance from Bengaluru’s IISc institute. Neha explained her vision for Astrome in a chat with YourStory, “Imagine if you are able to stream a full HD video from any remote location in India. That is the goal of our company in 2020. We plan to provide broadband internet service using a constellation of satellites in low earth orbit with our patented MM wave technology.”
Mysuru-based Bellatrix Aerospace has been working on developing orbital launch vehicles (rockets) and satellite propulsion systems at low costs. The organisation is in the process of developing two rockets ‘Garuda’ and ‘Chetak’ which will use next-gen construction material such as carbon composites to make them low-cost as well as reusable. Founded by Rohan M Ganapathy in Coimbatore at the age of 22, Bellatrix Aerospace recently also patented a new electric satellite propulsion system called the Microwave Electro-thermal Thruster (MET). Bellatrix claims the MET is more efficient than traditional chemical thrusters and lasts longer.
Satellite manufacturing and fabrication can be a laborious and expensive process. Recognising the opportunity for a startup that provides low-cost sustainable solutions for satellite fabrication, Raghav Sharma and Ankit Bhateja set up Xovian in New Delhi in 2011. Incorporated in 2014, Xovian also works with educational institutions and stakeholders to bridge the industry gap through innovations and workshops like CANSAT and R&D into techs like High Altitude Balloons and manufacture of satellite components.
This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. As the continued success of ISRO and access to improved infrastructure and funding fuels more dreams, one can hope to see many more entrepreneurs set up companies that will take India to the stars. The future of space exploration and development in India still needs to be fully tapped.
Are you working in the space sector in India? Do you have a story to share? Let us know in the comments!