India’s Space Business Is Catching Up Fast | Space


When it launched its first rocket in 1963, India was a poor country pursuing the world’s most cutting-edge technology. That projectile, its nose cone wheeled to the launchpad by a bicycle, put a small payload 124 miles above the Earth. India was barely pretending to keep up with the United States and the Soviet Union.

In today’s space race, India has found much surer footing.

In a sleek and spacious rocket hangar an hour south of Hyderabad, a hub to India’s tech start-ups, a crowd of young engineers pored over a tiny, experimental cryogenic thruster engine. The two founders of Skyroot Aerospace, talking between blasts of hissing steam, explained their exhilaration at seeing a rocket of their own design mount India’s first private satellite launch last November. These new thrusters will guide Skyroot’s next one into orbit this year, with a much more valuable payload.

Suddenly India has become home to at least 140 registered space-tech start-ups, comprising a local research field that stands to transform the planet’s connection to the final frontier. It’s one of India’s most sought-after sectors for venture capital investors. The start-ups’ growth has been explosive, leaping from five when the pandemic started. And they see a big market to serve. Pawan Kumar Chandana, 32, Skyroot’s chief executive, anticipates a global need for 30,000 satellites to be launched this decade.

India’s importance as a scientific power is taking center stage. When President Biden hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Washington last month, the White House’s statement said the two leaders “called for enhanced commercial collaboration between the U.S. and Indian private sectors in the entire value chain of the space economy.” Both countries see space as an arena in which India can emerge as a counterweight to their mutual rival: China.

For its first three decades, the Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, the local version of NASA, made the country proud: An…

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