Agnikul, an Indian space tech startup developing small-lift launch vehicles, has raised $26.7 million in fresh investment as it looks to begin commercial launches using its customizable satellite rocket.
Companies — from big tech giants to startups — are looking to launch their small satellites (up to 500 kg in weight) to space to improve their existing technologies and bring new experiences, such as precise location tracking and internet connectivity for remote areas. As underlined by the European Commission, this has ramped up the demand for smaller rockets.
Small satellites have typically been launched as secondary payloads on larger launch vehicles. Existing players including Elon Musk’s SpaceX have been conducting rideshare missions for small satellite launches. However, their growing demand has encouraged space companies to seek specific solutions. Astra, Virgin Orbit and Rocket Lab are some U.S. space companies that have introduced small satellite launch vehicles to cater to the growing demand. Nevertheless, the gap between the demand and supply of small launch vehicles is still quite significant by most accounts, leaving enough room for new entrants.
Agnikul is one such entrant, via its ‘Agnibann’ small satellite rocket. It will use a single-piece engine with no assembly or conventional manufacturing process to offer a faster production timeline and tailor-made launches. It’ll instead use additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing – the same approach being taken by US-based Relativity Space. The Chennai-based startup has showcased some glimpses of its plan by launching a 3D-printed engine called Agnilet, which was successfully test-fired in early 2021.
Last year, Agnikul secured a patent for the engine and established its facility to build many such engines using end-to-end 3D printing. It also launched India’s first private launchpad and mission control center at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, located in…