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India's Space Race Heats Up: Pixxel Soars, Agnikul Faces Bumpy Ride

Can India's space startups reach for the stars? Pixxel space is ready to launch 6 Satellites, but Agnikul's maiden rocket faces delays for 4th time in a row. Will they overcome the hurdles and propel India to the forefront of space exploration? Read on.

Team TICE and Swati Dayal
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Star Chasers India

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The Indian space industry is witnessing a surge in activity, fuelled by many ambitious space startups. These companies are developing innovative technologies and launching missions that promise to revolutionize various sectors. With a projected market size of $44 billion by 2033, the Indian space tech industry is set for a significant growth.

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Pixxel Blazes a Trail with Mega Constellation Launch

Bengaluru-based Pixxel is a leading space tech startup making headlines with its plans to launch a mega constellation of six satellites in 2024. This ambitious project will leverage the launch capabilities of both the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and SpaceX, highlighting Pixxel's strategic approach.

We are likely to have launches on both SpaceX and PSLV (ISRO's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). However, this decision purely depends on the timeline of our satellite readiness and the launches themselves,” Awais Ahmed, CEO, Pixel Space told Moneycontrol.

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In February, Pixxel inaugurated a sprawling 30,000 sq ft facility in Bangalore, marking a significant milestone. This new hub serves as the nerve center for their satellite constellation project, which focuses on hyperspectral imaging technology. Hyperspectral imaging captures and analyzes light across a vast spectrum of wavelengths, enabling detailed material identification and analysis. This technology holds immense potential for industries like agriculture, energy, forestry, and environmental monitoring.

Awais acknowledges the importance of launch timing. While SpaceX's rideshare missions offer schedule predictability, ISRO's launches can be impacted by delays in the primary payloads they carry. Pixxel plans to adapt, launching with whichever provider best aligns with their satellite readiness.

The company boasts an impressive track record, having successfully launched three satellites already. Notably, the Shakuntala (Technology Demonstrator-2) satellite reached its orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket. Pixxel's production capabilities are equally impressive, with their MegaPixxel facility boasting the capacity to produce 40 large satellites annually. This high production rate underscores their commitment to scaling their operations and rapidly deploying their constellation.

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In the startup's spacecraft manufacturing facility MegaPixxel, Ahmed said they are working on around nine satellites currently.  "There'll be more than we will add on second half of this year, and then more next year," Ahmed said.

Agnikul Cosmos: Maiden Rocket Launch Scrubbed Again for 4th Time

Agnikul Cosmos is another prominent player in the Indian space startup scene. However, their path has been marked by recent setbacks. Their maiden rocket launch attempt, involving the Agnibaan vehicle, unfortunately encountered technical glitches just before liftoff, leading to the mission's cancellation for the fourth time.

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The launch, scheduled for 5:45 a.m. IST (0015 GMT) on Tuesday, was first delayed less than six minutes before lift-off "due to a technical glitch in the countdown activities", and officials set a new lift-off time of 9:25 a.m.

Despite these challenges, Agnikul Cosmos remains a significant force in the industry. Founded in 2017, they hold the distinction of establishing India's first private launchpad and mission control center. This pioneering infrastructure represents a crucial step towards a more robust and independent private space sector in India.

The Agnibaan rocket itself is a testament to Agnikul's innovative spirit. This two-stage launch vehicle is designed to carry up to 300 kg of payload to orbits around 700 km in altitude. Notably, it utilizes semi-cryogenic engines, a technological advancement that employs a mix of liquid and gas propellants for enhanced efficiency. While the test launch delays are a cause for concern, Agnikul's focus on cutting-edge technologies positions them well for the future.

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A Bright Future for Indian Space Tech

The stories of Pixxel and Agnikul Cosmos exemplify the dynamism and potential of India's space tech industry. Supported by a growing ecosystem of government policies and increasing venture capital interest, these startups are well-positioned to be key players in this rapidly expanding market.

Beyond these two frontrunners, other companies like Skyroot Aerospace, Digantara, and Dhruva Space are also gearing up for crucial launches. This collective effort underscores the collaborative spirit within the Indian space tech sector and its commitment to propelling the nation towards a leading position in the global space race.

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