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


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

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

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

Skyroot faces both established and up-and-coming rocket competitors that also promise to lower costs. In China, startup Galactic Energy launched five satellites into orbit last week in its fourth successful launch.

In Japan, Space One, backed by Canon Electronics ( 7739.T ) and IHI Corp ( 7013.T ), plans to launch 20 small rockets a year by the middle of the decade.

But Skyroot, which launched a test rocket last week, expects to cut the cost of the launch by 50% compared to the current prices of established rivals such as 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 a surge in demand for the company’s launch services if it proves itself with launches planned for next year.

“Most of these customers have been building constellations and will be launching them in the next five years,” he said.

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

“Three to four months ago, when we were talking to investors, one of the most important questions they asked was whether the government supports us,” Skyroot co-founder Bharat Dhaka told Reuters.

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

Before that, the companies could only act as contractors for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), a government space agency with its own reputation for lean design. The country’s mission to Mars in 2014 cost only 74 million dollars, which is less than the budget of the Hollywood space movie “Gravity”.

The key will be to build on India’s record of economic efficiency, Chandana said. Skyroot, founded in 2018 when Chandana and Dhaka resigned from ISRO, set out to develop rockets at one-fifth of current industry costs.

The Skyroot rocket, which reached an altitude of 89.5 kilometers during a test launch last week, used carbon fiber components and 3D-printed parts, including engines. This improved efficiency by 30%, the company says, reducing weight and procurement costs, although it meant Skryoot engineers had to write machine code for the suppliers who built the rocket because few had experience with carbon fiber.

With 3D printing, Skyroot believes it can build a new rocket in as little as two days while working on reusable rockets, a technology pioneered by SpaceX.

Chandana and Dhaka believe that the cost of launching a satellite per kilogram can be reduced to almost $10 from thousands of dollars currently, which could disrupt the economics of space commerce, and take inspiration from their idol: Elon Musk.

“SpaceX is a symbol of great innovation and great market validation,” said Chandana, who added that they had not had a chance to speak with Musk.

“We think he’s probably busy running Twitter right now.”

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