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

BENGALURU, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The start-up behind India’s first private space launch plans to launch a satellite into orbit in 2023 and expects to be able to do it at half the cost of established launch companies, the founders of said Skyroot Aerospace told Reuters in an interview.

The Hyderabad-based company, which is 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, they say.

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

Skyroot faces both established and emerging rocket launch competitors, who also promise to cut costs. In China, start-up Galactic Energy put five satellites into orbit in its fourth successful launch last week.

In Japan, Space One, with support from Canon Electronics (7739.T) and IHI Corp (7013.T), plans to launch 20 small rockets per year by mid-decade.

But Skyroot, which launched a test rocket last week, expects to cut the cost of a launch by 50% compared to current prices for established competitors like Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit and California-based Rocket Lab USA Inc (RKLB.O). .

Pawan Chandana, one of Skyroot’s two co-founders, told Reuters he expects demand for the company’s launch services to pick up if they prove successful with launches planned for next year.

“Most of these customers have built constellations and will be rolling them out over the next five years,” he said.

The Modi government’s push to increase India’s share of the global space launch market from just 1% has given investors confidence that Skyroot and other startups will receive government support for their efforts, Skyroot says.

“When we spoke to investors three or four months ago, one of the biggest questions they asked was whether the government would support 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 encourage private sector launches.

Before that, companies could only act as contractors to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), a government space agency with its own reputation for economical engineering. The country’s 2014 Mars mission cost just $74 million, less than the budget of Hollywood space film Gravity.

Building on India’s record for cost-efficiency will be key, Chandana said. Founded in 2018 when Chandana and Daka quit their jobs at ISRO, Skyroot aims to develop rockets for a fifth of current industry costs.

The Skyroot rocket, which reached an altitude of 89.5 kilometers during test launch last week, used carbon fiber components and 3D printed parts, including the engines. That increased efficiency by 30%, the company said, and reduced weight and procurement costs, although it meant Skryoot engineers had to write machine code for vendors making the rocket, as few had experience working with carbon fiber.

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

Chandana and Daka believe the launch cost per kilogram for a satellite can be reduced from the current thousands of dollars to nearly $10, a far-reaching goal that could turn the economics of space trading on its head and one that draws inspiration from their idol : Elon Musk.

“SpaceX is a symbol of great innovation and great market validation,” said Chandana, adding that they didn’t have a chance to speak to Musk.

“Right now we think he’s probably busy running Twitter.”

Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ashish Chandra; Edited by Kevin Krolicki and Edmund Klamann

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *