India's new-gen space startups have an eye out for the stars - and UAE opportunities too
Dubai: When it comes to satellite launches, India’s governments and space agencies are right up there with the world’s best. Now, India’s businesses want to get into the act.
The country’s first-generation space startups are looking to ride on the surging demand for satellites and related services - and they believe the UAE could provide them the space to grow. Dhruva Space, which makes small satellite systems for private and government entities, is in talks with Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) for a potential deal.
“We are looking at some collaboration opportunities that will benefit both,” said Sanjay Nekkanti, founder and CEO of Dhruva Space. “We're a small company, and we are looking at the support that MDRC can extend to us in doing some exciting stuff from the UAE.”
Dhruva Space, participating at the upcoming International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, builds satellite platforms, including the structure, power generation, and communication systems. “The users could be governments, academic institutions, or defense – (they) can utilize these for a variety of applications,” said Nekkanti.
Stretching the limits
The company has also launched a platform that allows its customers to launch satellites from anywhere in the world. “We have built a proprietary interface between the satellite and the rocket, which enables us to launch satellites on multiple launch vehicles,” the CEO said. :It is like being given a ticket to go on any bus.”
It also helps solve a major bottleneck in the launch of new satellites. “ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organization) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle does anywhere between four to six launches a year,” he added. “If you want to launch satellites in big numbers, depending on only one launch vehicle will be very difficult.”
Dhruva Space is looking to raise about $15 million and is in discussions with multiple investors. “We are talking to a few investors in India and globally - the discussion on investment is ongoing,” said Nekkanti. Funding is one side of the story – government support for the sector is equally crucial and the UAE has several incentives in place to attract top talent.
As part of its National Space Strategy 2030, the UAE has launched free zones and infrastructure for space firms, with 100 per cent ownership. “The space economic zone is phenomenal - what they're trying to do is attract entrepreneurs like us to come and utilize the infrastructure and build on top of it to serve the requirements of the global space market,” said Nekkanti.
Dhruva Space is not the only company to bring attention to India’s booming space sector. GalaxEye, originally conceptualized in IIT Madras, is aiming to build a constellation of observation satellites. “What we claim to do is build integrated satellites in our lab, which would be able to capture images from space and then send down data,” said Pranit Mehta, Vice-President at GalaxEye. “That includes high-quality data, which is much more than what we can manually observe and comprehend.”
The startup is also in search for potential investors and the funds they could offer. “The seed fund that we are raising right now would help us build our satellite and also establish a mark,” said Mehta.
Move to UAE
Another India space startup – Bellatrix - is planning to open an office in Dubai next year to hire local talent. “We are a space transportation company, so we want to be leaders in space logistics - that's the goal,” said Rohan Ganapathy, CEO of Bellatrix. “We see UAE as a good place to expand as far as space logistics is concerned.”
The company, which makes propulsion systems for satellites, said it was developing a ‘Space Taxi’ concept that will ferry small satellites into multiple orbits. “It's just like Uber pool - they need not wait one or two years to just get to space,” said Ganapathy.
Chennai-based Agnikul is building launch vehicles that can take payloads to space, but it goes a little further than that. “We want to build vehicles in such a way that it suits the needs of the customer,” said Moin S.P.M., co-founder and COO of Agnikul.
In India, companies have to wait for at least two- to three- years to launch their satellites into space. “By then, the technology gets more advanced and the electronics shrink in size,” he said. “That's where we come in - we give them a lead time of almost two to three weeks for the launch and we are able to do that because we have a customizable design of the vehicle itself.”