The founders of Bellatrix and Skyroot. Bellatrix Aerospace’s ‘space taxi’ will offer ride-sharing for small satellites and drop each one of the passengers to their intended slots in space

BANGALORE: Bellatrix Aerospace is building a vehicle that will work as a “taxi in space” to ferry small satellites into multiple orbits. The orbital transfer vehicle is expected to help global operators reduce time and costs while launching communication and earth observation satellites.

The space start-up’s vehicle is expected to launch to low earth orbit in 2023 on the Vikram rocket of Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based rocket start-up, executives at both firms told ET. The vehicle will offer ride-sharing for small satellites and drop each one of the passengers to their intended slots in space.

“It is a new concept for the space industry. We will deliver the satellites to all the different orbits cost-effectively,” said Yashas Karanam, co-founder of Bellatrix.

Small satellites (that weigh up to 100 kg) travel to space on a rocket as a co-passenger with a larger one. If their planned orbit in space is different from that of the bigger satellite, once they are released in space, they burn fuel to manoeuvre to reach their orbits, reducing their intended lifespan. Many small satellite operators often wait as many as two years to get the right slot on a rocket to avoid this.

Bellatrix, incubated at the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, has built homegrown electric as well as chemically powered engines or thrusters to manoeuvre satellites in space. It is taking ahead this concept to build the orbital transfer vehicle and offer it as a taxi to take satellites to their orbit. The vehicle can also carry its own payload to become a satellite after dropping other satellites.

“We are already building one of the world’s low-cost rockets. Bellatrix’s OTV is a low-cost platform. The overall costs will reduce significantly for customers,” Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder and chief executive officer of Skyroot Aerospace, said. “This will boost our ability to offer customised launches for each orbit.”

Skyroot, founded by former Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists, expects to launch its rocket Vikram, named after father of the space programme Vikram Sarabhai, by December this year.

Since India opened up the space sector for private players, over 50 start-ups have emerged — building rockets, satellites and offering services to local as well as global customers. India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) is already among the lowest cost launch providers for small satellites.

Bellatrix is the second company in the world building an OTV after US-based Momentus, which is awaiting approval in the United States.

Last week, Bellatrix signed a deal with SatSure to power its fleet of remote sensing satellites with its hybrid-propulsion systems. The first experimental satellite is being planned in 2022. Bellatrix as well as Skyroot have partnerships with Bengaluru-based space services provider Dhruva Space as well.