By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, May 23 (IANS) Young promoters of space startups are reaching for the skies.
They are raising funds, getting components manufactured overseas, designing rockets and satellites from home and gearing up to send their own rockets or rockets of others carrying their satellites into space.
They tell you that their earlier plans were affected by the Covid-19 lockdowns, but they hope their rockets and satellites would be set for lift-off in a year’s time.
Two private rocket makers, Skyroot Aerospace and Agnikul Cosmos, recently announced raising $11 million each.
On the other hand, the Bengaluru-based satellite maker Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd, commonly known as Pixxel, had to postpone its first satellite launch slated early this year by an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket owing to a software glitch.
After that, the Covid-19 second wave swept the country, resulting in lockdowns and mobility restrictions.
“The lockdown and coronavirus has impacted our operations and put our plans behind by a year. But learning from the first wave, we developed backups,” Awais Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer, Syzygy Space Technologies, told IANS.
While Syzygy Space’s engineers are upgrading the satellite designs working from home, Ahmed said with Europe opening up, the company is getting some of the components manufactured there.
“Nearly 20 per cent of the satellite components come from overseas. Upgrading of satellite designs are happening by working from home,” Ahmed said.
“As things stand and if the Covid-19 situation improves, we hope to orbit our two satellites between October and December this year, one by ISRO and the second one by the US-based SpaceX,” Ahmed added.
According to him, the company has raised $4 million to date, which is sufficient for the first two launches.
The company plans to have a constellation of satellites to be called ‘Firefly’.
Rocket maker Skyroot Aerospace’s Co-Founder and CEO Pawan Kumar Chandana told IANS: “We are aggressively targeting a launch to orbit in 12 months. Other than unavoidable delays due to the lockdowns, most of our development is on track.”
According to him, the third stage (simply put rocket’s third engine) of Vikram, a rocket developed by Skyroot, is nearing completion while the other two stages are in various phases of manufacturing and soon testing of the full stage will be done.
“We are using the extra time to make several design improvements which are yielding us time and cost benefits,” he said.
“The supply chain has slowed down and a lot of raw materials and manufacturing got stuck. This has put us back by a couple of quarters. However, we are taking more precautions and optimising the processes in other ways to meet our schedules,” Chandana said on lockdown impact.
As regards the $11 million funds raised, Naga Bharath Daka, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Skyroot, said, “The fresh funds will fuel the rocket programme and will support in completing development and testing of all subsystems of our first launch vehicle Vikram-1, besides strengthening our world class team.”
“We started bookings for launches starting from mid next year and are actively engaging global customers. We intend to raise $40 million more to fund our aggressive growth plans over the next few years,” Daka added.
The pandemic has also impacted another private rocket maker, the city-based Agnikul Cosmos, putting its plans behind by a couple of months.
“Earlier our plan was to fly our rocket Agnibaan during the third quarter of 2022. Now, it may be by the end of 2022. We were not able to test our rocket engine,” Srinath Ravichandran, Co-founder and CEO, Agnikul Cosmos, had told IANS.
The lockdown has given Agnikul time to focus on optimising the rocket’s electronics and software.
With the availability of oxygen becoming precarious in the country in the wake of Covid 2.0, Agnikul has put on hold the testing of its semi-cryogenic engine, Ravichandran said.
Queried about the deployment of the $11 million raised recently, Ravichandran said it will be used for scaling up the team.
“Currently, we have about 60-65 employees and we will be adding 25-30 more persons,” Ravichandran said.
Agnikul also plans to offer post-satellite launch services or end-to-end service like providing images.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)