Agnikul, an Indian space tech startup developing small-lift launch vehicles, has raised $26.7 million in Series B funding which is Rs.200 Crore as it looks to begin commercial launches using its customizable satellite rocket. The investors include Artha Venture Fund,Artha Select Fund, Celesta Capital, Rocketship.vc along with existing investors Mayfield India,Speciale Invest ,Pi Ventures and others.This is Agnikul’s largest fundraiser till date and takes the total capital raised to date to $40 million.
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Agnikul was founded by Srinath Ravichandran and Moin SPM along with SR Chakravarthy and IIT Madras professor in 2017. It became the first Indian private space company to sign an agreement with ISRO, in December 2020. As a result, the startup began developing its launch service for satellites weighing up to 100 kgs by using the Agnibaan rocket with range of 700-kilometre (about 435 miles) Earth orbit.
Agnibaan is configurable by the customer, and requires use of 3D printing or additive manufacturing. Last year, Agnikul inaugurated its factory dedicated to end-to-end 3D printing of rocket engines.It started the integration process of Agnibaan SOrTeD (Suborbital Technological Demonstrator) in August,also launched India’s first private launchpad and mission control center at the Satish Dhawan Space Center, Sriharikota.
Small Launch Vehicles
Big tech giants as well as small startups are looking to launch small satellites with payload of upto 500 kg in space. This is done to improve their existing technology and tracking internet connectivity in remote areas. This has led to a demand for smaller rockets, the European Commission noted. Small satellites have been launched typically as secondary payloads to larger satellites. The existing companies like SpaceX do the same. However there exists a gap between demand and supply according to the specific solutions required.
The startup aims to complement the Indian Space Research Organisation,and is targeting to handle launches in less than 300 kg payloads segment. The point is to fill the gap not addressed directly by ISRO today ,said Ravichandran,CEO. The Small Satellite Launch Vehicle is being utilised by ISRO currently to launch satellites weighing up to 500 kilograms in a low-earth orbit. However,the intention is to fully transfer the vehicle to the private sector through bidding ,by the space agency.
The startup has not yet entered the commercial phase of launching and commercialising,but the people are today able to look at the technology it has built, asserted Mr.Ravichandran.Having signed a memorandum of understanding with a few Companies mainly from Europe and Japan, he added that there is a positive response from some launch companies. The startup is expected to have its first flight test sometime before the end of 2023.
Despite the global competition from players in the same area, Ravichandran asserted that the ability to customise the vehicle depending on the payload requested helps to bring a cost-effective advantage to Agnikul. The launching vehicle could be tailored to the requirement of the payload, and whichever orbit it is asked to reach , without compromising the cost itself, said Mr.Ravichandran.
Currently the startup has a headcount of around 225 people. The startup looks to go beyond its few launches and hire more talent,to launch more vehicles.With the aim to meet annual demand of 50 tons in the 300 kg segment ,the startup plans to develop multiple Variants of. Agnibaan ,with an increase in launch from one two in a year to one or two in a month.
Agnikul is seen as India’s answer to SpaceX ,and is poised to revolutionise the space industry not just domestically but also globally said,Sailesh Ramakrishnan,Managing Partner at Rocketship.vc.
India’s Space Sector
India has more than 100 space tech startups as of 2022, the investment in the tech industry has risen up to $250 Million. As the ISRO and IN -SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and authorisation Centre) started encouraging space startups the funding has surged.
In August this year,the Indian Space Policy was introduced, opening the gates with ISRO as the gatekeeper for greater participation of private players. Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya-L1 are successful missions carried out by ISRO.
There is a potential of growth from $8.4 billion currently to $44 billion in the next decade, for India’s Space sector ,as per the white paper released by IN-SPACe with startups as crucial steps.