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The Satellite Heroes Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal launched Pixxel in 2019 to build a global space data startup out of India and lead India's private space exploration journey

By S Shanthi

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Awais Ahmed (L), founder and CEO, Pixxel and Kshitij Khandelwal co-founder and CTO, Pixxel

The journey of Pixxel started way before the startup was officially launched. In 2017, Awais Ahmed, founder and CEO, Pixxel was one of the founding members and engineering lead at Hyperloop India, a national team that was a finalist at the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition and built India's first Hyperloop pod prototype. While still wrapping up his undergraduate degree, he and the team entered the SpaceX Hyperloop competition and became the only winning team from India.

As a result, they were invited to the SpaceX HQ to build, demonstrate and race the Hyperloop vehicle. The experience of seeing advanced rocket engines being manufactured firsthand and the first rocket booster to have landed back on Earth at the SpaceX facility sparked his decision to devote his career to space innovation.

He and Kshitij Khandelwal, co-founder and CTO, Pixxel also participated in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition — an opportunity to tackle some of the problems they'd seen using technology. But there was a problem. In most cases, the satellite imagery of the earth that was freely available for analysis was years old. And they couldn't fix what they couldn't see.

To validate whether this was an actual concern that was being faced by people all around the world, Pixxel reached out to many companies around the globe that analyzed satellite imagery to provide insights. There was almost a unanimous response that there was indeed a lack of information-rich space imagery and that companies would be willing to pay for the data. Equipped with this insight, Pixxel realized that there was an emerging market for the new kind of satellite imagery they wanted to provide.

"We recognized a growing market demand when there was a general acknowledgement of the need for more information-rich space images. This realization led to the founding of Pixxel. Our goal is to close the gap in the satellite imagery industry by offering accurate, up-to-date, and detailed data. This vision extends beyond meeting the growing demand for such data to leading India's private space exploration journey," said Ahmed.

As a result, Pixxel was launched in 2019 by Ahmed and Khandelwal to build a global space data startup out of India and lead India's private space exploration journey.

Pixxel is today a space data company building a constellation of the world's highest-resolution hyperspectral earth imaging satellites and the analytical tools to mine insights from the data. Pixxel launched the world's first commercial hyperspectral earth imaging satellite in 2021 and continues to innovate with its aim to build a health monitor for the planet by leveraging Hyperspectral technology.

"Pixxel's hyperspectral satellites can capture images at hundreds of very narrow wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum and reveal critical data about the health of our planet. Hyperspectral technology enables finer, more precise, and voluminous datasets that allow for the extraction of more specific information from remotely sensed captures. Both the hyperspectral constellation and advanced data analytics platform will give up to 10x more information compared to today's multispectral satellites in space with better spectral resolution," explains Khandelwal.

With already three hyperspectral satellites in space, Pixxel is now working towards launching six satellites by 2024 and Eighteen other satellites by 2025. Once completed, this constellation will aim to provide daily global coverage and help detect, monitor, and predict global phenomena across agriculture, mining, environment and energy use cases.

Pixxel's current venture funding totals $71 Million, which the founders say, is helping them reach closer to their goal of building a global health monitor for the planet by 2025. Some of its notable clients include Rio Tinto, DataFarming, Sanborn, EUSI, EarthEye Space and more.

Pixxel's next growth trigger revolves around the inauguration of a state-of-the-art Spacecraft Assembly, Integration, and Testing (AIT) manufacturing hub in Bengaluru. Spanning more than 30,000 sq ft, it is a first-of-its-kind AIT facility for any spacetech startup in India, say the founders, who also believe that this cutting-edge facility will significantly enhance the startup's capabilities to build its satellites—from design to fully tested launch-ready ones within a span of a few months.

Speaking on expansion plans globally, Ahmed said, "Currently, we have a presence in the USA, with our office located in El Segundo. We aim to explore and tap into international markets, leveraging our expertise and offerings to create a significant impact on a global scale in the coming years."

FACT SHEET

  • Name and Designation: Awais Ahmed, Founder & CEO, Pixxel
    • Age as of February 1, 2024: 25 Years Old
  • No. of co-founders: Kshitij Khandelwal, Co-Founder & CTO, Pixxel
    • Age as of February 1, 2024: 25 Years Old
  • Number of employees: 180+
  • Year of inception of the company: February 2019
  • Key Investors: Google, Lightspeed India, Radical Ventures, Accenture Ventures, Relativity's Jordan Noone, Seraphim Capital, Ryan Johnson, Blume Ventures, others
S Shanthi

Former Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes 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. 

 

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