July 2023 may go down in history books as an important pivot in the private space race, thanks to the launch of India’s Chandrayaan-3 and now two memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between Colorado-based Voyager Space and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) as well as the ISRO’s commercial arm, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), stating that Voyager Space will use Indian rockets and collaborate with the ISRO on the development of space hardware.

The commercial space industry has grown drastically since 2020, when India opened itself up to private launches and the number of space startups has dramatically increased. Late last year, India-based Skyroot Aerospace, whose investors include Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, launched India’s first privately built rocket. India’s own space industry has been booming as well, with the number of private Indian companies working on smallsats exploding from just five in 2020 to over 140 today. And during a visit to the United States in June 2023, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden pledged to deepen collaboration in space.

“We are thrilled to embark on this collaborative journey with NewSpace India Limited,” Clay Mowry, Chief Revenue Officer at Voyager Space said in a press release. “This partnership is a unique opportunity as we join forces to drive innovation and advancement in the small satellite launch industry.”

Voyager Space is no stranger to working with government agencies. The company already has a NASA contract to develop the planned Starlab space station. With partners, such as Hilton Hotels and Airbus, Starlab is being designed as a continuously crewed, free-flying, commercial space station serving NASA and other space agencies, serving as one of several stations that will replace the International Space Station (ISS). These space agencies and private companies in the space industry will conduct science experiments and foster industrial activity in microgravity. The station is to be launched in 2028, according to the company website.

The ISRO, too, has been on a hot streak lately, with the successful launch of Chandrayaan-3. Chandrayaan-3 launched successfully on July 14, 2023. The lunar lander and rover will take more than a month to reach the Moon. A software glitch resulted in Chandrayaan-2 crashing into the lunar surface. Only the Soviet Union, United States, and China successfully conducted soft landings on the lunar surface.

One aim of the new agreements is to leverage the ISRO’s Gaganyaan spacecraft to provide transportation to the Starlab station. Voyager Space said in the press release that with ISRO’s state-of-the-art launch infrastructure and NSIL’s experience in delivering payloads to orbit, they expect the agreements to expand access to space for Voyager’s global customer base. The Gaganyaan spacecraft, which means celestial craft in Sanskrit, is India’s addition to crewed spaceflight and contains a module that will carry three astronauts. India plans to send the first crewed capsule into space by late 2024.

Voyager Space first signed an agreement on July 6th with NSIL to foster collaboration in spacecraft launch and deployment opportunities on board NSIL’s Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). Voyager Space previously has flown customer satellites on two PSLV missions.

Under the agreement, Voyager Space and NSIL will explore launch and deployment opportunities for small satellites, according to the press release. In addition, the teams will study the use of space-qualified components from NSIL in support of spacecraft manufacturing, deployment, and operations.

Another agreement quickly followed on July 10th with the ISRO Department of Space and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) to explore opportunities for the use of ISRO’s Gaganyaan crewed spacecraft to service Starlab.

“We are thrilled to join hands with ISRO and IN-SPACe to explore the utilization of the Gaganyaan spacecraft for Starlab,” Mowry of Voyager Space said in the release. “This collaboration creates opportunities for joint exploration, research, and commercial endeavors across Voyager’s enterprise and Indian space entities. We are eager to leverage the potential of the Indian space ecosystem and contribute to the advancement of space exploration.”

“We are pleased to facilitate this collaboration between Voyager Space and the Indian space ecosystem,” Vinod Kumar, Director of the Promotion Directorate at IN-SPACe said in the announcement. “IN-SPACe will actively work towards exploring opportunities and enabling collaborations onboard Starlab. This MoU declares our commitment to fostering innovation, knowledge exchange, and growth within the Indian space industry.”

“This collaboration helps propel both Voyager Space and the Indian space ecosystem towards new horizons of exploration and technological advancements,” Kumar added.