India's emerging private space sector

FalconSlayers

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Bellatrix Aerospace successfully tests India’s first privately developed hall-effect thruster



ETtech
(Photo courtesy: Bellatrix Aerospace)
Synopsis
Bellatrix says its new hall-effect thruster will provide a reliable propulsion solution for small satellites. This, at a time when Elon Musk’s Starlink, Airtel’s OneWeb and Amazon are planning to beam satellite internet to earth.

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By Alnoor Peermohamed, ETtech
Last Updated: May 27, 2021, 01:43 PM IST
Bengaluru: Space technology startup Bellatrix Aerospace has successfully tested India’s first privately developed hall-effect thruster, an electric propulsion engine for micro satellitesweighing 50-500 kg.

The thruster will be ready for commercial use by the end of this year, the company said.



Bellatrix said it has completed ground tests for the new thruster in line with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and European Space Agency (ESA) standards at its lab at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

It is now readying to test its hall-effect thruster in space, for which it has signed an agreement with a European company for the device to be fitted to a satellite which will be launched in the coming months.

“We have optimised this propulsion system to specifically cater to the microsatellite segment. There were a lot of challenges in scaling down the technology, both in the plasma physics and the thruster construction,” said Rohan M Ganapathy, co-founder and chief executive officer at Bellatrix Aerospace. “It has taken us more than four years to develop this from scratch.”

Hall-effect thrusters were first developed by the erstwhile Soviet Union in the 1970s. While they’ve become a mainstay for satellite propulsion over the years, the technology has traditionally been used only for large satellites weighing in excess of 2,000 kg.

Bellatrix said its new thruster will provide a reliable propulsion solution to small satellite manufacturers, a market which is seen as booming after players like Starlink, OneWeb and even Amazon have gotten into a race to create a web of satellites that can beam broadband internet down to earth.

Simultaneously, there is also a growing opportunity for earth observation satellites, which several companies including giants like Airbus are vying for.

The Bengaluru-based company said its hall-effect thruster would offer far higher specific impulse (mileage) and could double the service life of such satellites to 10 years. This could result in 3X higher return on investment for satellite markets according to its estimates.

Bellatrix said its ability to scale down the technology gives it a competitive edge. Its current designs use xenon as fuel, but it says it is working on other proprietary propellants that will make its thruster more compact in the future.

“The smaller the thruster, the more complex it gets. The way to achieve this is less known. We have succeeded in developing the smallest Hall Thruster in the country,” said Rajesh Natarajan, a senior scientist in Bellatrix’s electric propulsion system division who played a key role in this development.

Apart from selling the propulsion unit to satellite makers, Bellatrix said the hall-effect thruster will also play a key role in making its space taxi, which will be able to ferry small satellites into multiple orbits, a reality.

“Our space taxi will allow multiple satellites to be launched in different orbits on a single rocket and this engine is one of the critical technologies in achieving that,” Ganapathy said.

Bellatrix had earlier won an order from ISRO for developing the world’s first commercial microwave plasma thruster which uses water as its fuel.

 
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We are 1st Indian pvt company to test fire multiple rocket propulsion systems: Pawan Kumar Chandana, Skyroot
This according to the start-up is the largest investment within the Indian Space Startup scene after the government announced the opening up the Space sector for private players.
Skyroot Aerospace

We are targeting our first orbital launch of Vikram 1 around mid-2022. Post success, within few years, we would work towards building production capability to achieve a launch cadence of one launch a week.
Skyroot Aerospace, a National award-winning start-up is building India’s first privately built space launch vehicles. It has completed its Series A financing successfully, with USD 11 million. This according to the start-up is the largest investment within the Indian Space Startup scene after the government announced the opening up the Space sector for private players.
According to the company note USD 11M Series-A was led by Greenko Group founders Anil Chalamalasetty & Mahesh Kolli; and there was participation from other public listed entity Solar Group (a major Space & Defence supplier); Former-Whatsapp CBO Neeraj Arora; existing investor Mukesh Bansal (founder of Myntra & CureFit), Vedanshu Investments, Worldquant Ventures, Graph Ventures, Sutton Capital and others.
According to Pawan Kumar Chandana, Co-Founder and CEO of Skyroot, “We are excited to work with them in building Skyroot into number one Space player globally.” Adding, “We have signed an agreement with Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), and that we will be working closely for our launch and testing requirements.
Naga Bharath Daka, Co-Founder and COO of Skyroot, “This adds more fuel to our rocket programme. It will also help in completing development and testing of all subsystems of our first launch vehicle Vikram-1.”
The company has already started bookings for launches which are expected to take off from mid- 2022. They plan to raise USD 40M which will be used in their future programmes over the next few years.
Pawan Kumar Chandana, Co-Founder and CEO of Skyroot, talks to Huma Siddiqui and shares more about his start-up.
Following are excerpts:

Tell more about your Start Up.

Founded by former Scientists of the Indian Space Research organization (ISRO), we at Skyroot are a National award-winning startup building one of the world’s most cost effective Space Launch Vehicles. In simple words – we build rockets for launching payloads (satellites for now and in future humans as well) to Space. Our mission is to democratize Space access by building affordable, reliable and responsive launch vehicles.
We are a world class team of 70+ rocket engineers with a cumulative experience of 500+ years in the rocket industry and we have been actively developing our Vikram series of launch vehicles for the past two years. We are the first Indian private company to test fire multiple rocket propulsion systems.
With the government opening the space sector to private players — how has it helped you?
Though opening up Space sector for private players was an eventuality we anticipated. ISRO announcing that it is their mandate to help private players with all facilities they need (in testing and launching) to meet their goals has been huge booster for us and has saved both our development costs and timelines. Utilizing existing facilities at ISRO will keep our core focus towards product development and save tons of money on re-building similar infrastructure.
We have signed up with ISRO to be able exchange information that is needed to be able utilize their testing and launch facilities in the future. ISRO has been super helpful throughout our journey.
What launches do you have planned?
We are targeting our first orbital launch of Vikram 1 around mid-2022. Post success, within few years, we would work towards building production capability to achieve a launch cadence of one launch a week.
Today, Satellites are indispensable part of our lives starting from the GPS we use on our mobiles for navigation, direct to home television, disaster response, urban planning, border surveillance and to providing internet in remote locations. However, reaching space has always been expensive and in the domain of government and large corporates.
Development of low-cost, reliable Space launch vehicles that can be produced, assembled and launched quickly is the key to enable the satellite industry (therby Space based services) to come up with innovative constellation-based solutions for application in various domains.
Hence solving the problem of Space access is first necessary step to pave way for trillion-dollar space ecosystem and this is going to tremendously improve quality of life on earth.
More about the Vikram series of launch vehicles
Vikram series is our flagship series of Space launch vehicles named after the father of Indian Space program – Dr Vikram Sarabhai. Our first objective is to commercialize Vikram-1 and also roll out the follow-on variants Vikram-2 and 3 which are essentially 80% same with a 20% upgrade but together cover the largest payload ranges from launching 1kg to 700kg of satellites not possible by existing vehicles in the market. The lower rocket stages of Vikram series are powered by low-cost, mass-produce able and high thrust solid propulsion while the final satellite insertion stage is a liquid propellant based stage which gives higher payload efficiency and mission flexibility with high restart capability. This is a unique architecture ideal for small satellite launch vehicles bringing costs down while being able to produce rockets at speeds unseen before.
Are you talking to other countries or the private space sector companies globally to work on projects?
Yes, more than 95% of our market comes from abroad and we actively interact with global customers (mainly satellite companies) and also look for strategic collaborations. We have a growing pipeline of interested customers who see great value in our solutions. The geographies are mainly from USA and Europe.
 
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Another private sector space start-up, Agnikul, is scheduled to launch its own satellite launch vehicle, "Agnibaan" by the end of this year. Hope they stick to that! Capability is 100kg to 700km.
Not "another" star up, they are well known and among most covered. Any launch this year by any Indian private company is hard.

I would like to know (the date of) your source.
 

Varoon2

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^
Yes, the articles that spoke of a 2021 launch were from late 2020. Outdated schedule now. Darn. The "Vikram" rocket by Skyroot was also originally going to launch by 2021- end.
 
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^
Yes, the articles that spoke of a 2021 launch were from late 2020. Outdated schedule now. Darn. The "Vikram" rocket by Skyroot was also originally going to launch by 2021- end.
Companies are strangled. So, no launch will take place this year. In fact, some of start ups might collapse amid losses.
 

Tshering22

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Private sector must not be allowed to grow beyond a certain point .

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Don't kill it before it has even been born. India's private sector with strong state oversight is important. We are never going to become like the US because socially there are many checks and balances in the Indian society. So we won't be a corporate state like the USA.

Au Contraire, these space companies should also seek more VC & even state funds to research on ramjet, scramjet, and other forms of aerospace propulsion technologies, as well as 3D printing manufacturing for aerospace.

Propulsion and 3D printing is badly needed in India where there is a lot of unionization of government strategic PSEs. Imagine if these private space companies form defence subsidiaries tomorrow and supply our military with advanced domestic tech that is offshoot of their research for space. How good that would be.
 

Tshering22

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Companies are strangled. So, no launch will take place this year. In fact, some of start ups might collapse amid losses.
Well, I wonder how has COVID affected space activities. Those who need satellites up there, just need it. In fact, this kinda stuff should be picking up pace.

Please someone help me understand the logic.
 

Haldilal

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Well, I wonder how has COVID affected space activities. Those who need satellites up there, just need it. In fact, this kinda stuff should be picking up pace.

Please someone help me understand the logic.
Ya'll Nibbiars Space X dosen't has any logic ignore them. I heard there's a start up who wants to launch a medium sized SLV from a under water location near the coast to keep the cost low. And re usable with more than dozen times. If it's really happens then this will further the competition's. But of course this startup is just in initial stage so can't be said if this will really happen's.
 

Tshering22

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Ya'll Nibbiars Space X dosen't has any logic ignore them. I heard there's a start up who wants to launch a medium sized SLV from a under water location near the coast to keep the cost low. And re usable with more than dozen times. If it's really happens then this will further the competition's. But of course this startup is just in initial stage so can't be said if this will really happen's.
Thanks. I was referring to our own space sector. The best part is that there are ISRO people involved in many of them (for obvious reasons). We need to see how we can not only focus on securing VC (hopefully not from American or Chinese investors, who would be their private space companies) but also see this as a method to expand into other offshoots, such as space debris management technology. It seems a little far-fetched but given the trash that we have around us, this could be a lucrative sub-segment.
 

Haldilal

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Thanks. I was referring to our own space sector. The best part is that there are ISRO people involved in many of them (for obvious reasons). We need to see how we can not only focus on securing VC (hopefully not from American or Chinese investors, who would be their private space companies) but also see this as a method to expand into other offshoots, such as space debris management technology. It seems a little far-fetched but given the trash that we have around us, this could be a lucrative sub-segment.
Ya'll Nibbiars there a firm who wants to launch Satellite communications located in Mumbai. And they have raised some funding's. :hehe:
 
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Well, I wonder how has COVID affected space activities. Those who need satellites up there, just need it. In fact, this kinda stuff should be picking up pace.

Please someone help me understand the logic.
Required satellite slots are usually added with a large margin because of uncertainty of launch timeline. They can also use some bandwidth from other satellites.

As for per launch, it takes a lot of work of many months in preparing LV, fairing and payload. Big companies and government agencies like ISRO can run themselves on special permissions and even can arrange material amid lockdown by hook or crook. Small vendors and subcontractors often don't have these priviliges.

And FYI, ISRO's larger portion of hardware is dependent upon private sector. They now just make payloads and plan research missions.
 

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