India’s first private rocket company seeks to cut satellite costs

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BENGALURU – The startup behind India’s first private space launch plans to put a satellite into orbit in 2023 and hopes to do so at half the cost of established launch companies, the founders of Skyroot Aerospace told Reuters in a statement. interview.

The Hyderabad-based company, backed by Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, GIC, says the $68 million it has raised will fund its next two launches. Skyroot has been in contact with more than 400 potential customers, he says.

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Thousands of small satellite launches are expected in the coming years as companies build networks to deliver broadband services like SpaceX’s Starlink and to power applications like tracking supply chains or monitoring offshore oil platforms.

Skyroot faces established and up-and-coming rocket launch rivals that also promise to cut costs. In China, startup Galactic Energy put five satellites into orbit last week on its fourth successful launch.

In Japan, Space One, backed by Canon Electronics and IHI Corp, plans to launch 20 small rockets a year by the middle of the decade.

But Skyroot, which launched a test rocket last week, plans to cut the cost of a launch by 50% from current prices of established rivals like Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and California-based Rocket Lab USA Inc. .

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Pawan Chandana, one of Skyroot’s two co-founders, told Reuters he expects demand for the company’s launch services to rise if it proves itself with launches slated for next year. .

« Most of these customers have built constellations and will launch them within the next five years, » he said.

The Modi government’s efforts to increase India’s share of the global space launch market by just 1% has given investors confidence that Skyroot and other startups have government backing for their efforts, Skyroot said. .

« Three or four months ago when we were talking to investors, one of the biggest questions they asked was whether the government was supporting us, » Skyroot co-founder Bharath Daka told Reuters.

India opened the door to private space companies in 2020 with a regulatory overhaul and a new agency to boost private sector launches.

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Prior to this, companies could only act as contractors to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), a government space agency notorious for its lean engineering. The country’s Mars mission in 2014 cost just $74 million, less than the budget for Hollywood’s space movie « Gravity. »

Building on India’s record of profitability will be key, Chandana said. Skyroot, founded in 2018 when Chandana and Daka quit their jobs at ISRO, has set itself the goal of developing rockets for a fifth of current industry costs.

The Skyroot rocket that reached 89.5 kilometers in altitude during last week’s test launch used carbon fiber components and 3D printed parts, including the thrusters. This increased efficiency by 30%, according to the company, reducing weight and procurement costs, although it meant that Skryoot engineers had to write machine code for the suppliers who made the rocket, as few had any experience with carbon fiber.

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With 3D printing, Skyroot believes it can build a new rocket in just two days as it works towards reusable rockets, a technology pioneered by SpaceX.

Chandana and Daka believe the launch cost per kilogram of a satellite can be brought down to nearly $10, from thousands of dollars currently, an ambitious goal that could upend the economics of space trading and draws inspiration from their idol: Elon Musk.

« SpaceX is a symbol of great innovation and great market validation, » said Chandana, who added that they hadn’t had a chance to speak to Musk.

« Right now, we think he’s probably busy managing Twitter. » (Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ashish Chandra; Editing by Kevin Krolicki and Edmund Klamann)



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