Even as Elon Musk has been focusing his energies on Twitter over the last few months, an Indian startup is quietly looking to walk in his space shoes.
Hyderabad-based space-tech startup Skyroot Aerospace is planning to launch India’s first privately developed rocket this month. The mission is called Prarambh, and Skyroot’s rocket is called Vikram-S. The launch is expected to happen between 12th and 16th November, and the final date will depend on the weather conditions at the time. The launch will be historic because this is the first time a private entity will send a rocket to space from India. Thus far only the Indian government — through its space agency ISRO — has sent rockets into space.
“The Vikram-S rocket is a single-stage sub-orbital launch vehicle which would carry three customer payloads and help test and validate the majority of the technologies in the Vikram series of space launch vehicles,” Naga Bharath Daka, Chief Operating Officer of Skyroot Aerospace, said in a statement. (The mission) aims to disrupt entry barriers to cost-efficient satellite launch services and space-flight by advancing its mission to make spaceflights affordable, reliable and regular for all, Skyroot said.
Skyroot might be a privately-owned startup, but it has been working closely with ISRO to launch its rocket. “We could build and get our Vikram-S rocket mission-ready in such a short time only because of the invaluable support we received from ISRO and IN-SPACe, and the technology talent that we inherently possess,” the company’s founders said. Skyroot is also utilizing infrastructure at ISRO’s spaceport in Sriharikota for the launch.
Incidentally, 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.
And the draft bill appears to have yielded its desired results. The bill had aimed to regulate and promote private participation in the space sector. “The government is in process of creating an ecosystem to encourage private participation in space and in indigenous production of space technology, devices and services,” Minister of State for Atomic Energy and Department of Space Jitendra Alhawat had said in 2021.
Just a year later, an Indian space-tech company is poised to launch its maiden rocket into space. The launch will put Skyroot into rarefied territory — only a handful of private companies across the world launch their own rockets, with SpaceX being the most prominent of them. Nations across the world are racing to establish their supremacy in space with their own satellites and launches, and private companies can help give a much-needed fillip to space efforts that were once exclusively the domain of government agencies. And when the Vikram-S streaks over the Sriharikota sky next week, it will herald a new era in India’s space program which could see private players join hands with ISRO to fulfil the country’s space ambitions.