Space tech start-ups take wing- The New Indian Express

Express News Service

BENGALURU: November last year, when space tech start-up Skyroot Aerospace successfully launched the country’s first privately made rocket — Vikram-S — they probably triggered a revolution of sorts in the country’s space technology sector. The space sector, which until not long ago remained inaccessible to the private sector, is all set for an overhaul, helped by the government.

Just around the time when Skyroot became the country’s first private sector player to launch a rocket in space, another start-up Agnikul Cosmos also test fired its 3D-printed rocket engine. Many more to follow in 2023.

The government in June 2020 initiated space sector reforms and established the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to boost the space economy within the country. In June 2022, IN-SPACe was formally inaugurated.

IN-SPACe Chairman Pawan Goenka at Bengaluru Tech Summit held in November said there is a tremendous opportunity in the space sector and that the Indian government is hand-holding the space start-ups.

The number of start-ups in this space has been increasing, and so the funding. There are over 100 space tech start-ups at present. The funding buzz in the Indian space tech start-up ecosystem is continuing despite start-ups in other sectors are facing a funding winter. “We already have a booming bunch of start-ups working on a range of space technologies right from launch vehicles, satellites, ground stations to downstream applications.

Agnikul Cosmos is another start-up, which is expected to make the path-breaking launch of their 3D printed rocket soon. Moreover, a new Space Policy and a revised FDI policy are expected to be announced this year, which will further accelerate the growth of the private space sector in India significantly,” Goenka told this newspaper. He added that 2023 will see a rapid advancement in private sector participation in the Indian space sector .

Space tech secures funding
Data sourced from Tracxn, a research platform, shows that space tech start-ups received total funding of $91.5 million in 13 rounds in 2021, and $112.2 million in 9 rounds in 2022. IT company Accenture in August 2022 invested in space-tech start-up Pixxel, which is building the highest resolution hyperspectral imaging satellite constellation.

The investment was done through Accenture’s start-up venture arm Accenture Ventures. Also, Pixxel was the first space tech start-up to attract funding from global investors. “Ever since the Indian government introduced new space reform initiatives, their support in enabling private companies to address the gaps has only grown further. While 2020-21 marked the onset of India’s private space tech odyssey, 2022 has been the hallmark year for the ecosystem. It was the year when Indian space start-ups finally came of age and demonstrated the ability to build products not only for the country but for the global market,” Awais Ahmed, chief executive officer, Pixxel told this newspaper.

The formation of IN-SPACe to promote the private space sector culminated in many breakthrough MoUs in 2022. Out of the $245.35 million the sector received from the Centre in the last seven years, $198.22 million came post-2020, he said.

“Just last year alone, we’ve seen a record amount of funding raised (almost 10X of 2021), giving the Indian space start-ups the fodder they need to reach higher orbits,” he added.

Pixxel, which is backed by Lightspeed, Radical Ventures, Relativity’s Jordan Noone, Seraphim Capital, Ryan Johnson and Accenture, among others, launched private commercial imaging satellite Shakuntala’ and third hyperspectral satellite Anand, totalling it tally to three low-earth orbit hyperspectral imaging satellites so far.

“These satellites have already started providing imagery that will give the team feedback and inputs to improve the form factor and imaging capabilities of the next batch of commercial-grade satellites,” Ahmed further said.

This year and by early 2024, Pixxel will launch six fully commercial-grade constellation satellites, set the bar for better data collection and become the first space-tech start-up out of India to kickstart full-scale commercial operations.

Abhishek Rungta, Entrepreneur and Partner, Seeders VC, sees spacetech as an industry of the near future with more participation from the private sector. Seeders recently led an investment in Kawa Space. Besides this, in his personal capacity, Rungta has invested in over 10 space tech start-ups globally. Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma has also invested in Kawa Space.

“There are at least 20 space tech start-ups in India which have made decent progress. Besides the economic value of the space sector, it has become more accessible and open to the private sector, which is resulting in a sudden increase in interest and investment in this sector,” Rungta said.

Opportunities galore in space tech
Growing technology advances such as semi-cryogenic engines, reusable launch vehicles, two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) rocket launch vehicles, and others are propelling industry towards new space opportunities.

“The private players in the Indian space sector have caught up with the global trend by aligning themselves with similar technological breakthroughs. Private players are swiftly identifying opportunities hidden in space data and developing solutions as individuals or as part of a consortium effort,” said Maneck Behramkamdin, AVP and Business Head, Godrej Aerospace. Godrej Aerospace frequently looks out for start-up associations and partnerships. Behramkamdin added that a number of Indian space tech start-ups have been successful in launching satellites and other space tech projects, further increasing their credibility and recognition.

As a result, Indian space tech start-ups are now viewed as reliable partners in the global space sector.  Are there any challenges in the ecosystem? Ahmed said that earlier, one of the biggest challenges faced by Indian space tech start-ups was the lack of a clear policy. However, with the recent reforms, the government has shown strong support and faith in the private space tech sector, he added.

“Today, access to grants, revenue and contract mechanisms for early-stage start-ups remains a big challenge, as compared to the US or Europe. Additionally, there’s a lack of late-stage and growth-stage investors based in India investing in the space,” Ahmed said.  This has resulted in all large rounds in the private space tech start-ups being led by foreign funds. Thus, raising a larger amount of investments within the country is becoming difficult

SKYROOT, AGNIKUL SPACE ROCKETS
Around when Skyroot became country’s first private sector player to launch rocket in space, start-up Agnikul Cosmos test fired 3D-printed rocket engine

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