When Indian entrepreneur Awais Ahmed founded his satellite startup in Bangalore in 2019, his country was still a year away from opening the space industry to the private sector.
“When we started, there was absolutely no support, no momentum,” said Ahmed, who was 21 when he founded Pixxel, a company deploying a constellation of Earth imaging satellites.
Since then, the private space sector has taken off in India, joining a rapidly growing global market.
There are now 190 Indian space start-ups, twice as many as a year earlier, with private investments jumping by 77 percent between 2021 and 2022, according to Deloitte consultancy.
“A lot of Indian investors were not willing to look at space technology, because it was too much of a risk earlier,” Ahmed said in an interview with AFP.
“Now you can see more and more companies raising more investment in India, and more and more companies have started coming up now,” he added.
Pixxel makes hyperspectral imaging satellites—technology that captures a wide spectrum of light to provide details that are invisible to ordinary cameras.
The company says it is on a mission to build “a health monitor for the planet”: it can track climate risks such as floods, wildfires or methane leaks.
Pixxel had initially sought to use rockets from the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
“I remember having a conversation with with someone in ISRO. We were trying to book a launch and they said, ‘Look, we don’t even have a procedure to launch an Indian satellite. But if you were a foreign company, then basically there’s a process’, which didn’t make sense when we started,” Ahmed said.
Pixxel ended up having to hire US rocket firm SpaceX to launch…
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