Space tech startup Pixxel raises $5 mn, to use seed capital for first satellite launch

Space tech startup Pixxel raises $5 mn, to use seed capital for first satellite launch
Kshitij Khandelwal (left) and Awais Ahmed
19 Aug, 2020

Bengaluru-based space tech startup Pixxel said it has raised $5 million in a seed funding round led by Blume Ventures, growX Ventures and Lightspeed India.

The round also included contributions from Inventus Capital India, Stanford Angels and earth imaging veteran Ryan Johnson, a statement said.

As part of the deal, Johnson will join the Pixxel board, it said. He is the founder of Canadian earth imaging company Blackbridge and former president of San Francisco-based private earth imaging firm Planet Labs.

The company plans to use the fresh funds for its first satellite launch, scheduled for later this year on a Soyuz rocket, and to accelerate the development of its second satellite. The capital will also be deployed to expand its team, strengthen technology and accelerate progress towards the deployment of its constellation, the statement said.  

Pixxel has raised a total of $5.7 million so far -- in June 2019, it received $700,000 in a round, dubbed a pre-seed funding round, from Techstars, growX ventures and others.

In February 2019, final year undergraduate students at BITS Pilani, 21-year-old Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, founded the company. It builds constellations of earth imaging small satellites to provide global imagery at a daily frequency. The satellites, the firm claims, will collect information-rich data and analyse it using Pixxel’s proprietary machine and deep learning models to detect, monitor and predict global problems and phenomena.

“Our satellites will bring down the benefits of space down to earth and help us see the unseen through a unique dataset that offers an unprecedented level of detail,” Ahmed said.

“The recent announcement by the Indian government to set up IN-SPACe and privatize space by encouraging startup participation has also come at the right time for us. We look forward to building from India for not only this country but the world,” he added.

The microsatellites manufactured by Pixxel are compact, not bigger than a mini-refrigerator and weigh about 15 kg, it said. Its satellites also deorbit after their lifetime, thus not contributing to the problem of space debris, it added.   

In 2019, Pixxel was the only Asian participant to be chosen for the Techstars Starburst Space Accelerator.

The microsatellite movement, together with easier and cheaper access to space, has led us closer than ever to the dream of providing real-time, 24x7x365 coverage of full planetary data,  Hemant Mohapatra, partner at Lightspeed India, said.

“With Covid-19, we are seeing imagery demand shift even faster away from drones and airplanes to satellites. Their platform centric approach to satellites, payload, data and associated AI-led analytics is one of the boldest and most comprehensive we have seen,” he said.

Sanjay Nath, managing partner at Blume Ventures, echoed his sentiments.

 Pixxel has identified a unique opportunity in the remote sensing space to solve huge problems across industries that have never been tackled before, Nath said. The time for space tech is now, driven by many tailwinds -- the proliferation of micro satellites, reduced launch costs and the need for more real-time deep intelligence on our planet, he added.

In the segment, Pixxel competes with companies such as Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace, which is backed by founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, Mumbai headquartered Kawa Space, Bellatrix Aerospace and Mumbai Angels-backed Dhruva Space.

In June 2020, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) formed a new body, called the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), to help private space-tech players conduct projects using the organisation’s infrastructure.