Science

‘Prarambh’: Skyroot Aerospace To Make A Great ‘Beginning’ For India's Private Space Technology Sector

Karan Kamble

Nov 09, 2022, 10:57 AM | Updated 10:57 AM IST

Skyroot Aerospace co-founders Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka along with ISRO chief S Somanath. (Photo: Skyroot Aerospace/Twitter)
Skyroot Aerospace co-founders Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka along with ISRO chief S Somanath. (Photo: Skyroot Aerospace/Twitter)
  • The high-flying Hyderabad-based spaceflight startup is preparing for India's first private rocket launch due between 12 and 16 November.
  • Skyroot Aerospace wants to build high-technology, low-cost, reliable launch vehicles.
  • Indian space technology startup Skyroot Aerospace announced its maiden launch mission on 8 November. Titled Prarambh, meaning “beginning” in Hindi, it will mark India’s first private rocket launch.

    The launch window has been set for 12 to 16 November 2022. Lift-off will be from India’s spaceport Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) at Sriharikota, off the coast of Andhra Pradesh.

    SDSC SHAR (Sriharikota Range) is responsible for providing launch base infrastructure for the Indian space programme.

    “After months of sleepless nights and meticulous preparations from our team - Super thrilled to announce our first launch mission #Prarambh from the beautiful island of Sriharikota @isro,” Skyroot co-founder Pawan Kumar Chandana said in a tweet.

    He expressed “crazy mixed feelings of excitement and nervousness”, stating they had “just a week to launch". 

    Skyroot Aerospace wants to build high-technology, low-cost, reliable launch vehicles. Co-founders Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka previously worked with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as rocket scientists for about a handful of years before starting up in 2018.

    Chandana told the Week magazine a couple of years ago that Skyroot wants to make space flight as cheap as an air flight in the long run “so that anybody can go to space”.

    The global space economy is valued at just over $450 billion, out of which India’s share is roughly about 2 per cent. The key to increasing India’s contribution to the global space output lies with the private sector. 

    That is why the government of India opened the space sector to private enterprises and made room for sharing ISRO know-how and infrastructure with private players.

    A little over two years later, a private player is set for take-off using their own rocket from ISRO’s launch base.

    In 2021, Skyroot formally signed up with ISRO. By entering into an agreement with the Department of Space on 2 February, it secured access to ISRO’s facilities and technical expertise as they went about developing their launch vehicles.

    Over a year later, in June 2022, the Hyderabad-based startup signed an agreement (MoU) with the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which enabled the launch of its rockets from the ISRO spaceport.

    Naturally, Chandana has credited the “invaluable support… from ISRO and IN-SPACe,” alongside its in-house technology talent, for the quick turnaround of the launch vehicle for its sub-orbital mission carrying three customer payloads planned for around mid-November 2022.

    A sub-orbital flight is one where the spacecraft goes up to the ill-defined edge of outer space and falls back down to the ground as it cannot remain there. To the contrary, an orbital flight involves a spacecraft continually falling around Earth instead of down to the surface — which is when it is said to be in an orbit.

    Set for the upcoming milestone launch is Skyroot’s rocket Vikram-S, named after Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of the Indian space programme. Vikram-S is a single-stage sub-orbital launch vehicle.

    Vikram-S is just one among four in Skyroot’s Vikram series of launch vehicles developed to cater to the small satellite market, which is expected to grow year on year. The Vikram-S flight will validate many of the technologies that will feature across the Vikram fleet.

    Skyroot’s debut private rocket launch for India has come on the back of a few key milestones — and several firsts — accomplished over the last couple of years.

    On 28 December 2020, the space tech startup announced the successful test-firing of their first solid rocket propulsion stage demonstrator, “Kalam-5”. It was a first for a private Indian company and the first of five Kalam engines expected.

    Four months earlier, they had announced the successful test-firing of their upper-stage engine, “Raman”.

    With the dual success of Kalam-5 and Raman, Skyroot demonstrated the propulsion technologies that are to power Vikram I.

    Skyroot also unveiled their “Dhawan-1” cryogenic rocket engine that year.

    Dhawan-1 is an entirely homegrown, 3D printed engine that will run on liquid natural gas. It will form the upper-stage technology powering the Vikram II launch vehicle in the future.

    Just as in the case of the Vikram series, the “Dhawan” engines are named after an important figure in Indian rocket science and technology — Professor Satish Dhawan, the third chief of ISRO.

    Skyroot Aerospace is a National Startup Award 2020 winner. 

    More recently, it found a top-five spot on LinkedIn's Top Startups 2022, an annual list that recognises emerging companies that warrant attention.

    In September this year, Skyroot raised $51 million (over Rs 403 core) from Singapore GIC (Government Investment Corporation) in the largest-ever funding round in the Indian private space technology sector.

    On this year’s New Year Day, Skyroot Aerospace tweeted: “2022 is going to be a milestone year for Skyroot and the entire space ecosystem in India".

    With its maiden launch, the Indian private space sector may rev up further and turn a fast corner.

    Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.


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