SkyRoot's VIKRAM-I launch vehicle for small satellites

Jitendra Singh said that the NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) was set up to meet the ever-increasing demands of Indian space program and to commercially exploit the emerging global space market. The total revenue from operations during the last three years is Rs 6,289.05 crore

A total of 239 satellites were launched by ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation in the last three years, garnering revenue of Rs 6,289 crore, the government informed Parliament on Wednesday. In reply to a question in Lok Sabha, the minister of state in the Prime Minister’s office Jitendra Singh said the government has already set up NSIL under the administrative control of Department of Space (DOS) on March 6, 2019 to commercially exploit the research and development work of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) centres and constituent units of DOS.

He said that the NSIL was set up to meet the ever-increasing demands of Indian space programme and to commercially exploit the emerging global space market.

“A total of 239 satellites were commercially launched by Antrix Corporation Limited during the last three years. The total revenue from operations during the last three years is Rs 6289.05 crore,” he said.

Unfair Monopolisation

In India, whether or not the ISRO should help start-ups grow has been the subject of debate.

Kris Nair, the founder of Mumbai-based Exseed Space – the only Indian company that has put a satellite in space, piggybacking on SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in December 2018 – believes it would make a world of a difference.

As per a media report he had said that, “With the many years of expertise of ISRO scientists and technological advances by them, there is much knowledge to be shared with others in the industry with a ‘co-beneficial for the nation’ mindset.”

“ISRO collaborating with private companies gives India an edge and truly democratises space exploration,” he said.

There has also been criticism that India sees “as a tool for nation-building that is purely the preserve of the government” – which is why it lags behind China and the US when it comes to private players

In June 2019, several Indian space start-ups picked up some investors.

Yashas Karanam, the founder of Bangalore-based Bellatrix Aerospace, raised $3 million from a group of investors – the biggest investment in an private Indian space player. Bellatrix Aerospace intends to to propel satellites into orbit using electric and non-toxic chemical thrusters.

Meanwhile, Mumbai-based Kawa Space, which designs and operates earth observation satellites, has closed a seed round of an undisclosed amount, one of its investors, Vishesh Rajaram, managing partner at Speciale Invest, told Reuters.

According to an IDN report, Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup backed by CureFit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, is developing a rocket which can be assembled and launched in a day that will be used to hurl small satellites into space, eyeing a slice of the global market for tiny satellite launches that is expected to grow over the next decade.

Skyroot, founded by former ISRO scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana, Naga Bharath Daka and Vasudevan Gnanagandhi, expects to demonstrate its first rocket by 2021, which it says could potentially reduce launch costs by a third.

Chandana, CEO of Skyroot Aerospace remarked that, “We are one of the rare companies building expertise in both solid and cryogenic propulsion. Solid propulsion is the cheapest option for small launchers and cryogenic propulsion is complex, but provides the best efficiency and is highly scale able for larger vehicles.”

Their fundraising represents a big leap in private space investments in India where the government has enjoyed a near-monopoly for decades.

Most Indian space startups are hopeful that parliament will pass a long-pending space law, which will give clarity on how private companies can operate in the sector.

The market for space launches is getting increasingly competitive with private players entering the field globally. In India, only the public sector is allowed to launch rockets into space. Private participation, so far, has been limited to building components and technologies for ISRO, on a small scale. 

The government is currently mulling over the ‘Space Activities Bill’ to align its liability in outer space with international standards. Once the bill comes into place, it will allow private players to launch rockets with a government license. 

“ISRO, competent as it is, cannot be the only warden of India’s space ambitions and necessities. This role should be extended to the private sector just as other countries are doing,” according to Chaitanya Giri, a fellow with the space and ocean studies program at Gateway House — the Indian council on global relations.

(With inputs from IANS/Reuters)