Amidst the pandemic, everything seems to be falling, and the last thing space technology experts would wish to see their advancements going downhill and its effect on space travel. Thankfully, there have been notable developments in the space technology industry with the help of evolving startups in India and around the world over the last few years.
Be it about sending 3D printers or the innovative approaches to satellite communication or the International Space Station; space tech has witnessed steady growth. A large part of these advancements is a result of the venture capital funds within the space-tech industry.
Let’s have a look in the working and role of the top space-tech startups in the development of the space industry.
Top Space-tech Startups
Alen Space is a Spanish startup offering nanosatellites ready to launch. It develops mission control, communication hardware, on-board software, and turnkey apps for data transmission. These are combined to render plug-and-play solutions for use cases in different applications of aircraft surveillance, Internet of Things (IoT), and signals intelligence.
Conventionally, satellites are massive objects and typically need a huge amount of money and time to be positioned in orbit. Thanks to the advances in space-tech industry over the years, now startups are rapidly developing small-sized satellites at comparatively lower costs. Some satellites even weigh as less as 1-10kg, called nanosatellites. Moreover, these satellites are easy-to-upgrade and participate in the nanosatellite constellations as members to develop space communication technologies.
CesiumAstro is a US-based startup rendering unique communication systems for launch vehicles, satellites, drones, and various other airborne or space platforms. SBC-1461 is known as a single-board computer that works in low-earth orbit (LEO) by design. The credit-card-sized framework consists of an error-correcting memory card, quad-core processor, multiple data interfaces, and mass storage. The company is also into manufacturing Ka-band phased array communication system, multi-beam active-phased array systems, and cross-link communications payload, along with other systemic communication solutions.
Telecommunication is a prime application area for satellites revolving in orbit. The satellites communicate with other satellites in the constellation as well as transmit signals back to earth. With the increasing number of small satellites, most are placed a few inches across. More and more space tech startups are installing satellite constellations in orbit. With these rapid installations, the communication requirements of these satellites in the constellations are encouraging new developments in communication systems.
Enpulsion is an Austrian space tech startup that develops electric propulsion systems. The company manufactures the IFM Nano Thruster technology that is based on the field-emission electric propulsion (FEEP). Electrode voltages enable excellent levels of control over full and low thrust range by taking control of the thrust. The modular design of the thruster offers multiple custom benefits for missions.
The propellant constitutes a vast part of the total weight of a rocket. Electric propulsion improves the performance of thrusters, and leads to equivalent thrust, with the fraction of the total propellant required for chemical thrusters. With this, the rocket systems turn into a more mass-efficient system with reduced launching costs. Electric propulsion is also helpful in increasing the life expectancy of satellites, extending the duration of the mission.
4. Mu Space
Mu Space is a Thailand-based space-tech startup developing satellite communication technologies. The company provides IFC (In-flight connectivity) technology and a self-stabilizing IFC antenna enabling it to send and receive signals from moving aircraft in the space. The technology uses a series of satellites to provide them with comprehensive coverage over flight routes. The space-tech startup offers solutions for remote ground access, satellite monitoring, 5G wireless, and maritime connectivity.
Conventional inflight connectivity through air-to-ground (ATG) networks is highly expensive and is limited to working in specific circumstances. But, LEO satellite constellations allow high-speed satellite connectivity and comes with the potential to disrupt the aviation internet industry or market. These kinds of satellite constellations also make way for possibilities for IoT-based solutions for in-flight operations. The same technology is used to expand internet connectivity to rural off-the-grid locations.
Infostellar is a Japanese startup offering a Ground Segment-as-a-service platform. Stellar Station is useful for satellites in accessing ground stations across the world through a single API (Application Programming Interface). The third-party ground stations gain revenue for sharing extra capacity on the platform. Having 99.5% platform availability and best security options, the solution proves to be an asset for space businesses in improving their services.
The success of a satellite is highly dependent on ground-based elements, such as mission control, earth stations, remote terminals, and various other facilities. The ground segment infrastructure is mostly expensive to maintain and operate in comparison to the cost-effective options developed for small satellites. This offers the required encouragement for startups to create solutions for the development of space technology.
Skyroot Aerospace is a Hyderabad-based startup that has become the first private company in the country to test the upper-stage rocket engine. Named after Dr C.V. Raman, the Nobel Laureate, the 3D printed rocket engine weighs as less as half of the traditional rocket engines having the same capacity. Launched in the year 2018, the startup is backed by Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, the CureFit founders, and Solar industries.
Founded by ex-servicemen of ISRO, Dr Pawan Kuman Chandana and Dr Naga Bharath Daka, Skyroot Aerospace plans to develop a ‘family of rockets’ and launch and place them in orbit. The company looks forward to launching the first rocket that can hurl satellites of 250-700kgs into a lower Earth orbit by the end of 2021.
Pixxel is a Bengaluru-based space-tech startup founded in early 2019 by Kshiitj Khandelwal and Awais Ahmed. Recently, the startup raised a seed funding of $5 million led by GrowX Ventures, Blume Ventures, and Lightspeed India for its first earth imaging satellite to be launched into the low-Earth orbit in November 2020. The funding round also witnessed participation from Stanford Angels, Inventue Capital India, and Ryan Johnson, the co-founder of BlackBridge, a satellite imaging company owned by Planet Labs. Soon, Johnson will also be on the board of directors’ list.
After the November launch, the company is also preparing for their next launch of its second satellite in mid-2021. The funding amount will also be utilized in building its proprietary data platform for the analysis of satellite images. Soon after its hardware is tested and proven in space, Pixxel has plans to develop a constellation of 30 earth imaging satellites that will be launched in space between 2020 end and mid-2023. The startup has already lined up trusted customers like Skymet and Satsure to purchase its data in India, among several other global, oil and gas, agriculture, ad weather tracking agencies.
Founded in 2018, VestaSpace is recognized as an off-beat venture of an Aeronautical engineer to help mid-sized businesses and startups access the perks of using satellite communication, small satellites, sensors, and connected devices.
VestaSpace Technology is an Indian space technology startup specializing in creating small satellite platforms for scientific and commercial applications. Recently, the company raised a funding of $10 million from Next Capital LLC, American investment and advisory firm.
In an interview to a reputable media house, Arun Sureban, the founder pf VestaSpace said, “Our association with Next Capital LLC began with my stay in the US for a project and has culminated into a good financial deal that was cracked in April. This deal is going to be a great financial booster for VestaSpace Technology and will allow us to expand and scale up our operations and expand our footprint globally.”
Arun Sureban has worked on an array of Nanosatellite and CubeSat projects through VestaSpace and looks optimistic about the funding enabling his startup to reach heights and witness a growth boost of almost 300% based on the acquisition of ground stations, reaching out to a more robust global network with the funding amount.
The firm can build small satellite platforms for several applications, such as communications, technology demonstration, earth observation missions, and others. They have already in collaborative work with the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) and have come up with strategic plans for global expansion of the firm.
Agnikul Cosmos is another Indian space-tech startup on our list that is bringing transformation in the world of space technology. Settled in the National Center for Combustion R&D at IIT Madras, Chennai, the company has signed a memorandum of agreement with Alaska Aerospace Corporation for test-launching their Agnibaan rocket from PSCA (Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska) on United States’ Kodiak Island. The startup is aiming to start commercial rocket launches in 2022.
Both AgniKul and Alaska Aerospace will work together under the agreement to sign multiple regulatory approvals. The approvals include the UX export control, the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) launch licensing. Additionally, the companies are meant to comply with export laws & regulations in India to enjoy essential clearances from the authorities in India as well. The ultimate goal is defining launch vehicle-spaceport interfaces, and organize a minimum of one test launch from PSCA.
Bellatrix Aerospace is a space-tech startup investing in research and development of electric propulsion and orbital launch vehicles for satellites. The space industry is becoming an integral part of our lives. From TVs, mobile phones, to office computer systems and the Internet everything relies on satellites. However, only a small chunk of space is explored by researchers and scientists. It offers limitless opportunities for several market sectors, but one of the undeniable barrier blocking the doors to space is the high costs of access.
Bellatrix is a startup established with a motive to bring a revolution in space technology by reducing the costs of a satellite mission. It does it through the patented electric propulsion systems. The company dedicatedly offers high reliability, competitive prices, and short waiting periods to its customers.
In a nutshell
The space industry never fails to amaze us with the continuous advancements, and the major credit goes to the above-mentioned and many more startups coming forward to make a difference. Their contribution to improving space travel and reducing the costs of satellite missions is inexplicable and worth applauding. And, not to sideline, geospatial technology is also a crucial part of these developments as many things would seem impossible without the use of applications like GIS, remote sensing, etc. in the space industry.