NEW DELHI: When the Vikram-S rocket was launched in November, it set a new milestone in India’s space industry — a success for the private players who recently entered a domain that for decades belonged only to the state.
The privately built rocket took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota and reached an apogee of 89.5 km, making its owners, Skyroot Aerospace, the first private Indian company to reach outer space.
“Beyond the symbolic value of being the first, we are happy to be among the early movers in the private space start-up ecosystem which has started to demonstrate its potential,” Pawan Kumar Chandana, co-founder of the Hyderabad-based startup, told Arab News.
India opened the door to private companies in the space industry in 2020, with a regulatory overhaul and the formation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center — a single-window autonomous agency under the government’s Department of Space. Before that, the state-owned Indian Space Research Organization was the sole arbiter of the country’s space programs.
“Our successful launch has confirmed the domain expertise and leadership capabilities of the Indian space sector,” Chandana said. “We now focus on developing our flagship Vikram I orbital vehicle that we (will) launch in 2023.”
Skyroot Aerospace was founded by Chandana and his partner Bharath Daka in 2018. Both of them spent years working at ISRO. Chandana specializes in the mechanical aspects of rockets, and Daka in avionics — aerospace electronics.
Skyroot is one of several private companies to have arrived on the scene since the industry opened up. When the Indian Space Association launched in December 2020, it had just five members, but, the association’s director general Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Anil Kumar Bhatt told Arab News, that number has already increased tenfold.
“The private space players’ ecosystem is growing in India ... many new start-ups are coming up,” he said.
India has been in the global space market since the 1960s, but its current share is only 2 percent, worth an estimated $9.6 billion in 2020. The country’s target is to reach $12.8 billion by 2025.
There are currently slightly more than 100 private startups in the Indian space sector and Bhatt estimates that they have, since 2020, received about $240 million from venture capitalists.
Bhatt is confident that India’s presence in the global space sector will increase greatly in the near future.
“Competition will make space exploration cheaper. Disruptive technology introduced by the private players has reduced the cost of launch by nearly one-fifth,” Bhatt said. “In 10 years, we expect (India’s share of the global space market) to reach around 10 percent.”
Dhruva Space, another successful Indian startup from Hyderabad, develops satellite platform structures and subsystems. Its CEO, Sanjay Nekkanti, welcomes the government’s support for the space industry.
“The current government has been very forthcoming in bringing about an interesting revolution where private players experience a level playing field in trying to support not just local requirements but also global requirements too,” he told Arab News.
Dhruva Space launched two radio communication nanosatellites in November, and is readying to launch satellites of up to 40 kg this year.
“As India awaits the Space Act, we will see a tremendous increase in the demand for satellites in the coming years, fueling growth for satellite-enabled services,” Nekkanti said.
“The potential for innovative space applications is immense, especially if established aerospace companies form partnerships with businesses that traditionally haven’t ventured into orbit — for example, pharmaceutical or agricultural companies. Satellites already play a vital role in the communications of everyone’s daily lives, so the imminent growth will enhance this role.”