Nationwide and state-level lockdowns over the last year, supply chain issues and other adversities caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have affected the schedules of India’s ambitious Space Launch vehicle Startups. Trying to establish in an extremely high-risk and low-return industry, these firms run by young techies are going on with their work by accepting the realities of the new normal. Delays are part of the game, but the mission to launch an indigenously designed and developed Private rocket from India is very much on!
For these deep-tech startups, acclimatizing to the new normal is about staying away from labs and test facilities, not being to physically work as a team, modifying fabrication techniques, switching to tasks that can be fulfilled from home and having to look for alternate strategies etc.
For Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace, the testing of their Cryogenic engine (which requires liquid oxygen as an oxidizer) has been put on hold, until the Oxygen situation across India improves. Building techniques that utilized liquid oxygen have been avoided and welding without oxygen is the new engineering method in place. The firm was hoping for an end-2021 maiden launch, but under the current circumstances, the company feels that mid-2022 would be a realistic target.
“Usually certain technical components reach us within two months, but with the supply chain disruption, they take up to six months. There are production issues at the steel manufacturers’ end, imports of few components are delayed. However, we have to focus our resources on other important work that can be performed from home, such as - design optimization, improving cost and efficiency etc. Even in terms of vendors, we have had to explore other options” Pawan K Chandana, CEO, Skyroot Aerospace told Zee Media.
Reducing hardware testing, going in for more simulations, increased focus on design and software coding has been the lockdown strategy for Chennai-based Agnikul Cosmos. Their team believes that delays are universal and has affected work across sectors. They hoped for a maiden launch in 2022, but are now certain that it would almost be until late-2022 for their rocket to lift off.
The firm has also shut down all kinds of work involving liquid oxygen and made it a point to share the details of vendors to those in need of medical oxygen.
“By re-prioritizing, we are able to do quite a lot while working from home. There are issues at both the supply and demand end, but there is no point in waiting for the prevailing situation to end. The teams are working very hard and it's encouraging how private space firms in India are being taken very seriously and provided government backing” Srinath Ravichandran, CEO and co-founder of Agnikul Cosmos told Zee Media.
Once the Covid-19 situation improves, the respective firms hope to perform crucial tests of their rocket components at private facilities and those of the Government-run Indian Space Research Organization(ISRO). The Sooner these tests are performed, the higher the likelihood of the companies being able to stick to their rented launch schedule, amid the challenging times.
With its vast pool of multi-domain engineering talent in India, private firms foraying into space technology is a natural progression. But the real fillip for this field has been the Central Government’s sectoral reforms to enable private participation and the technical support being provided by the ISRO, via an arm called In-Space. Skyroot and Agnikul have recently raised $11 million each in Series A funding.
Speaking about the investment, Srinath Ravichandran, Co-founder and CEO, Agnikul, said, “In these difficult times for humanity as a whole, we are thankful to be able to find excitement, as our investors continue to reaffirm their confidence in our strategy of democratizing small satellite launches. We are thankful to have ISRO’s guidance and happy that the Government is enabling private space tech ventures. With this support from the Government and investors, we look forward to an exciting next step for our company and in the process, simplifying access to space.
“This round adds more fuel to our rocket program and will support in completing development and testing of all subsystems of our first launch vehicle Vikram-1 and strengthening our world-class team,” said naga Bharath Daka, Co-Founder and COO of Skyroot.