Even as people are trying to battle the coronavirus on earth, some Indian startups are making their marks in the skies.
Space-tech startup Skyroot Aerospace has become the first Indian company to successfully test fire an solid fueled rocket engine. The engine, named Kalam 5, is a solid propulsion rocket engine. Just five months ago, Skyroot had become the first Indian private firm to test an upper-stage liquid fueled rocket engine.
“This test demonstrates the capability of our technology for the Vikram-1 rocket. Though we have fired a scaled-down engine during this successful demonstration, it must be noted that building a smaller engine is also a complex process. This successful test firing gives us the confidence that the bigger models will succeed,” said Pawan K Chandana, CEO of Skyroot Aerospace. The engine was tested at a private test facility on December 22 in Nagpur owned by Solar Industries, which is India’s largest explosives manufacturer and a leading space and defence contractor. Solar Industries is also partner and investor in Skyroot.
The Skyroot Aerospace’s solid propulsion rocket stage has been built with an advanced carbon composite structure, which is five-times lighter than a steel case. The Vikram-1 rocket is powered by four engines – three solid-fuel stages, and one Liquid-fuel stage that the firm has designed and developed. Multistage rockets can have have as many as 5 stages: the booster stage carries the rocket to the atmosphere, at which point the other stages are deployed. Upper stage engines are used to finally deploy satellites into their exact orbits.
Skyroot founders Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka were former ISRO scientists. They had decided to quit their jobs and build a private space company after they saw the draft of the Space Activities Bill in 2017. The draft bill had recommended private firms in space programmes, including building rockets, satellites and launches, both for Indian and foreign customers. “Looking at the draft bill, we quit ISRO to start our own venture,” COO Naga Bharath Daka had said.
Skyroot Aerospace was thus founded in 2018. The startup is heaquartered in Hyderabad, has some some big-name backers — it’s raised Rs. 31.5 crore so far from investors which include CureFit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori. Like SpaceX, Skyroot Aerospace says it “envisions a future where spaceflight is as regular, reliable and affordable as airflight.” It plans its first launch in December 2021.
It’s a bold mission, but one that’s been made possible by recent government moves that have opened up the space industry to the private sector. Along with Skyroot, startups such as Agnikul and Bellatrix are also building small launchers with 3-D printed engines, hoping to bring down the cost of launching satellites and capturing a bigger pie of the global small satellite launch market. Reports suggest that 10,000 small satellites could be launched globally in the next decade, and apart from government bodies of countries like US, Japan and India’s own Antrix, several private firms, such as SpaceX, are also in the fray. Space is emerging as a new frontier, both for nations and for companies, and Indian startups are also throwing their hats into the ring.