India's Spacetech Ready For a Bezos-Branson-style Push?
The government space agencies are providing opportunities to private industries which have led to many new discoveries and innovations
Last year, many spacetech startups in India including Pixxel, Bellatrix Aerospace, Agnikul, Skyroot and others grabbed investors’ attention and made media headlines. The boost came from the government's opening of space, atomic energy and DRDO sectors for young entrepreneurs and calling for private investments in the segment.
Today, India has around 100 active spacetech startups that are building constellations of high-resolution earth-imaging small satellites, launching vehicles, offering software tools to analyze data, among others.
The space sector has changed drastically over the years, especially since the announcement.
Key Changes Since Opening Up Of the Space
“The reform of the Indian space sector has been a watershed moment for commercial space companies. This has sparked a lot of interest among investors in looking at space tech businesses for prospective investment opportunities,” said Anirudh Sharma, CEO, Digantara, a spacetech startup that secured $ 2.5 million seed round from Kalaari Capital recently.
Additionally, ISRO is assisting new space startups and companies by sharing its infrastructure, testing facilities and technical assistance, also funding through challenges and programs which is assisting in the development of a dynamic space ecosystem in India.
The private companies are providing new innovations to the space sector which is beneficial for both the government and private companies because, through this, private companies are getting the investors and recognition they need.
“Some changes are to be proposed to maximize the benefits from the space sector. The primary objective is to change the approach from ‘supply-based’ to ‘demand-based’ model. It will result in identifying new opportunities, marshalling the talent and resources to grab those opportunities. And with the combination of supply chain and demand chain, the space sector will have the kind of revolutionary impact on the market,” said Ravindra Raj BM, founder, Omspace, an aerospace company incubated at EDII Ahmedabad. The 55-member team has not raised any funds yet and has generated a revenue of INR 23 lakh in the last one year.
Moreover, a new organization named Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (In-SPACe) has been created to promote and guide private organizations in space activities. “It will free up India’s premier space agency ISRO to focus more on research and development while providing opportunities to expand India’s space exploration and technology through the participation of private organizations. Also, it will help to increase employment in the country and it will bring out talent all across the country,” added Raj.
NSIL (NewSpace India Limited) will take ownership from DOS for operational launch vehicles, commercialize launches, satellites and services, and it will act as the aggregator of user requirements. “As a result, we are going to see a revolutionary impact and bright future in the space sector,” said Raj.
“IN-SPACe is particularly promising since it would act as the single point of contact for space companies for all regulatory paperwork with the government. Additionally, private companies cannot invest tens of millions on facilities. Access to ISRO’s facilities is a major plus. ISRO has already signed an NDA with Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot Aerospace to allow access to their facilities,” said Yashas Karanam, C00, Bellatrix Aerospace, a full-suite solution provider of spacecraft propulsion systems based in Bengaluru.
Disruptive Space Technologies
Technological advancements and new space actors are cutting the cost of putting spacecraft into orbit and expanding launch chances, paving the way for innovation in the industry like launching of low-cost nanosatellites, mega-constellations of hundreds of satellites and small launchers. Additionally, broadband and the Internet of things from space, commercial human spaceflight, and other promising breakthroughs and new space technology systems are coming of age.
“As a result of the changing environment, problems like space sustainability, security and exploration are becoming more important as fundamental aspects for the growth of the space ecosystem,” said Digantara’s Sharma.
In India, many startups and industries have started making launch vehicles and satellites and are eager to provide space-based services. For instance, Omspace is building a rocket named Infinity, which is capable of launching nano and small satellites in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) at an altitude of 800 Km. Bellatrix Aerospace has developed one of the world’s smallest thruster and one of the best performing green monopropellant.
Overall, Smart Propulsion, Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) Satellites, Advanced Communication, Space Activity Management are some of the trends seen in 2021.
Global Outlook And Future Trends
The global outlook for Indian space companies is also witnessing many positive changes. Indian space companies are working on a lot of cutting-edge technologies that aim to solve global problems. “Soon, India will become a hub for frugal engineering and deep innovations, building on the credibility ISRO has already garnered. Space industry saw an investment of $8.9 Billion in 2020 and $6.4 Billion already till Q2 2021. Many funds are looking at these metrics from the US and betting big on Indian space companies,” said Bellatrix Aerospace' Karanam.
Experts believe the draft of new policies for the space sector on space transportation, remote sensing policy, communication, navigation, deep space missions, etc., are comprehensive and forward-looking. “We look forward in anticipation to how the implementation of these policies will happen: it needs to make it agile, simple and transparent for companies. In the next 5-10 years, we will see many Indian companies working on disruptive space technologies. At Bellatrix, we ourselves decided to start a new project to develop Orbital Transportation Vehicles (space taxi) with the confidence that there will not be regulatory challenges to take up such projects,” added Rawat.
Participation of academic institutions such as IISC, IITs and others in space activities is also expected to expand the space economy.
“Space as an investment theme is also likely to impact a number of industries beyond aerospace and defence, such as IT hardware and telecom sectors,” said Omspace’ Ravindra Raj BM.
More than 30,000 satellites are likely to be launched by 2030, compared with just 4,000 satellites that are currently orbiting us. “This unprecedented space traffic calls for efficient propulsion systems to deorbit a satellite at end of life and potentially avoid collisions. To monitor these satellites, space situational awareness will also become essential. Companies and governments are now gearing up to make our childhood ‘space dreams’ a reality within our lifetimes. Additionally, with billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos going to space last month, a new era of space travel is also set to begin,” said Digantara’s Sharma.
With the current launches and contributions in the private space sector and appreciation for Indian space agencies all over the world, India is expected to soon become a space hub.
Shanthi specialises in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. She is also a mom who looks forward to playing a game of cards with her tween daughter every evening after work.