India has emerged as a key player in the global space sector, largely due to the growing number of private startups that are making significant contributions to the country’s space ambitions. These innovative companies are transforming technology and developing groundbreaking solutions that are revolutionizing how we explore, utilize, and engage with space. In this article, we will delve into the remarkable achievements of India’s top space startups: Astrome, Pixxel, Skyroot Aerospace, Kawa Space, and Agnikul Cosmos.
India’s Top 5 Space Startups
Astrome, a Bengaluru-based space technology startup co-founded by Neha Satak and Prasad HL Bhat in 2015, is at the forefront of advancing millimetre-wave wireless communication. Their objective is to enhance internet accessibility for individuals in developing nations by launching a constellation of 198 satellites into the Low Earth Orbit (LEO). Astrome has ingeniously designed a wireless product that offers fibre-like bandwidth at a significantly reduced cost compared to traditional fibre networks. This allows telecom operators to provide reliable and economical internet services to suburban and rural regions. Their commendable efforts have garnered global acclaim, including prestigious accolades such as the National Award for Technology Start-up and the SME Technology Startup of the Year 2020 Award.
Pixxel, an Indian space technology company co-founded by Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal, is dedicated to developing a revolutionary health monitoring system for our planet using a constellation of advanced hyperspectral small satellites. This state-of-the-art hyperspectral capability will enable the detection of underlying issues that are currently invisible to satellites in orbit. The company’s inaugural hyperspectral imaging satellite, named ‘Shakuntala’, has embarked on its space voyage. Unlike conventional satellites, Pixxel’s hyperspectral constellation is designed to transmit 10 times more data, providing a comprehensive view of the entire planet. This invaluable data holds the key to building a sustainable future. Hyperspectral imagery unveils hidden phenomena, making it applicable in various sectors. In agriculture, it can identify crop species, detect pest infestations, monitor soil health, and map nutrient deficiencies.
In the government sector, it aids in urban infrastructure planning, road network mapping, natural disaster response, and natural resource mapping. In the environmental sector, it assists in forest cover mapping, quantifying pollution/stress levels, mapping gas concentrations, and detecting vegetation. In the energy sector, it aids in detecting oil spills, monitoring pipelines, exploring hydrocarbon reserves, and tracking vessels.
Skyroot Aerospace, a company established in 2018 by former ISRO engineers Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, is a private aerospace manufacturer and commercial launch service provider. Based in Hyderabad, Telangana, Skyroot aims to revolutionize the small satellite market by developing and launching its own expandable small lift launch vehicles. In a remarkable turn of events in 2022, the company raised $50.5 million through its Series B funding round and made history by becoming the first private space startup to successfully launch a rocket from Indian soil. This achievement not only showcased the pioneering capabilities of Skyroot but also marked a significant milestone for the entire private space industry in India. Skyroot’s overarching vision is to ‘Open Space For All’ and they are diligently working towards it. Their lineup of launch vehicles, namely Vikram I, II, and III, showcases their commitment to versatility and adaptability as these vehicles are designed to meet various orbital inclinations and altitudes.
Furthermore, in a testament to their collaborative approach, Skyroot signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) with ISRO in 2021. This agreement grants Skyroot access to the invaluable facilities and technical expertise present within ISRO centres to further enhance the development of their launch vehicles. With each passing year, Skyroot Aerospace continues to make significant advancements in the space tech industry and is anticipated to achieve even greater milestones in the foreseeable future.
Kawa Space, a space tech company founded by Kris Nair in 2018, specializes in creating and operating advanced satellite constellations for earth observation. Based in Mumbai, India, Kawa Space’s main product is the Kawa Platform, an intelligence platform that offers geospatial insights to technology teams globally through an API. The company serves a wide range of customers, including those in finance, government, risk management, and agriculture. Kawa Space offers a flexible pay-as-you-go model, accommodating both small and large companies. Companies can rent Kawa’s satellites and collect data through an API connected to Kawa’s data centres. Additionally, Kawa Space is actively developing analytics software based on earth observation satellites, catering to customers in agriculture, infrastructure, and the environment sectors. They provide comprehensive solutions for Global ISR Teams, utilizing space-powered capabilities for intelligence gathering, electronic intelligence, and missile defence. By enhancing ISR programs, Kawa Space enables better risk assessment, on-ground activity monitoring, and continuous tracking of radio frequency emitters. Moreover, they can identify and track vessel activity worldwide.
Agnikul Cosmos, a space technology startup located in Chennai, India, was established by Srinath Ravichandran and Moin SPM at IIT Madras. Their primary focus is on constructing India’s inaugural privately-owned small satellite rocket. The company’s objective is to create and deploy its small-lift launch vehicle, known as Agnibaan, which can transport a payload of 100 kg (220 lb) into a 700 km (430 mi) orbit. Agnikul is dedicated to developing launch vehicles that can transport micro/nano satellites to low Earth orbit as per demand. Recently, they successfully conducted a test firing of a fully 3D-printed semi-cryo rocket engine at IIT Madras. Agnikul’s rocket engine, Agnilet, and its cryogenic pump are both single-piece, fully 3D-printed components that will utilize kerosene and liquid oxygen as propellants. The semi-cryogenic rocket engine will operate using liquid propellants. In October 2023, AgniKul secured $26.7 million in a Series B funding round, bringing the total capital raised since its inception to $40 million. Both existing and new investors participated in this funding round. On November 7, 2022, Agnikul Cosmos acquired its first Flight Termination System (FTS) from ISRO, which will be utilized in the upcoming launch of Agnibaan from Satish Dhawan Space Centre.