After first private space mission, space factories in the works in India
After the successful completion of India’s first space mission, homegrown firms are now looking to set up manufacturing facilities for satellites etc. Homegrown space startups, Pixxel and Dhruva Space, are eyeing new assembly facilities for satellite manufacturing in the country, following successful satellite launch missions on November 26.
Satellite manufacturing is an integral part of India’s plans for the space sector. The government’s liberalized space policy, which is said to be in the final stages of completion, is expected to allow the country’s firms to take a larger share of the global space market. At present, India accounts for only 2% of the global space economy, according to data shared by Jitendra Singh, Minister of State (MoS) for science, technology and earth sciences, in the Lok Sabha in August.
The two companies are also part of a growing crop of homegrown private space startups that are launching the final trial phase of their products and services. On November 18, Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace became India’s first private firm to launch its own rocket. Pixxel and Dhruva’s satellites were successfully deployed in their intended low-earth orbits (LEOs) on November 26. India’s upcoming space policy is expected to invite more participation from such startups, taking some of the load off ISRO and its coffers.
Pratip Mazumdar, founder and partner at early-stage VC firm, Inflexor Ventures, which has invested in Indian space startups Bellatrix Aerospace, said that this is an ideal time for space firms to make investments towards setting up capital facilities.
“Procedures of land acquisition take a long time, in terms of the processes involved. You have In-Space (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center), the nodal enablement body for space under the union government, and Isro, supporting the sector,” he added.
Other than Pixxel and Dhruva, IIT-Madras incubated Agnikul Cosmos has procured land in Chennai for its own test bed facility, while Bellatrix Aerospace has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the government of Karnataka to procure land for its own propulsion and thruster manufacturing facility.
Bengaluru-based Pixxel has made more progress, and is already in the process of constructing its own satellite manufacturing factory. Hyderabad’s Dhruva Space told Mint that it is in the final planning stages, with construction expected to begin early next year. Pixxel’s factory should be constructed by the first half of next year, the company said.
Awais Ahmed, chief executive officer of Pixxel, said that the manufacturing facility will produce more satellites similar to the one it launched aboard the PSLV on Saturday. The PSLV carried a satellite called ‘Anand’, which is the prototype of future ones the company plans to make. Demonstrator satellites are smaller and lighter, while final versions will be more complex and hence larger and heavier.
“These small satellites are 15kg in weight, and work as demonstrators for the kind of high resolution data and analytics that we can provide from our constellation. But, the final satellites that will be part of our constellation will be 50kg each, for which we would need a new facility — work on which will be completed by the first half of 2023,” Ahmed said.
Pixxel eventually plans to put up around 20 satellites in its constellation, which will provide imagery data that can be used to study climate change, measure leaks in gas pipelines, and for other purposes. Its manufacturing facility is expected to give the company greater control towards how it can build, develop and improve its satellite technology, said Ahmed.
On the other hand, Dhruva Space has bigger plans for its facility. Chaitanya Dora, chief financial officer (CFO) of Dhruva, said that the Thybolt-1 and 2 satellites, which were deployed on Saturday, were precursors to the kind of satellites that the company can build.
“We eventually plan to offer complete and indigenous manufacturing solutions for satellites, components and ground stations for companies. We’ve already received our first commercial contract worth ₹20 crore to build satellites for a client, which requires us to step up our abilities,” Dora said, adding that the company has enough funding required for the first-stage of the project already. It will likely raise a fresh round next year.
That said, both companies plan to use their facilities to contribute to early-stage commercial contracts from around the world. Pixxel said that it has so far received early-stage contracts from firms like global mining major Rio Tinto, Australian agri-tech firm DataFarming and most recently, the government of Telangana in India. Dhruva didn’t disclose client names.
The senior executive of a venture capital (VC) firm, which has invested in space startups here, said that manufacturing facilities could be a heavy investment upfront for space startups that are still at an early stage. “However, given that they would need to have the scale of satellite manufacturing if they are to attract global clients, such investments would be critical for the immediate future of these space businesses,” he said.
Inflexor’s Mazumdar said that space firms have enough funds to initiate land acquisition, or start building their manufacturing plants, but will need to raise more funds to scale up such facilities next year and tap global investors and clients.