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Indian start-ups in the space industry are exploring specialized markets, such as satellite refueling and Earth monitoring, with hopes of achieving significant success as opportunities for global commercial partnerships emerge.

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to the US, India became a signatory to the Artemis Accords, signaling a focus on the space sector and addressing issues related to export control and technology transfer. This move is expected to open doors for private players in the industry.

Since India opened its space sector in 2020, over 150 start-ups have emerged in various areas, including rocket and satellite development, astronaut training facilities, and space tourism exploration.

Tushar Jadhav, co-founder of Manastu Space, a Mumbai-based start-up, believes that the collaboration opportunities with the US in sunrise sectors like space and defense technology are a positive start. Manastu is developing eco-friendly propulsion systems for satellites and intends to try out their technology in an upcoming test flight next year. The company is designing a fuel station in space. The fuel station refuels satellites that would otherwise become abandoned due to depleted onboard fuel.

Lt Gen A K Bhatt (retd), Director General of the Indian Space Association, states that many technologies in the space sector have dual use, and easing processes for such technologies is an indication of progress.

In November of the previous year, Skyroot Aerospace, based in Hyderabad, successfully launched its Vikram-S rocket, becoming the first privately built space rocket in India within just four years of its establishment. The company was started by scientists and engineers who used to work at ISRO. They are currently working on creating three different versions of the Vikram series. These versions will send small satellites into space.

Pawan Goenka, chairman of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), praises the uniqueness of the private sector’s work, emphasizing that companies like Skyroot and Agnikul are not merely replicating what ISRO has done. Their launch vehicles and satellite applications possess cutting-edge technology and cater to specific niches.

Chennai-based Agnikul Cosmos also made strides by inaugurating its own launchpad within the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, where ISRO conducts its space launches.

Domestic private players in India are seeking opportunities in global markets for their products due to limited demand for space technology and data in the country. Some companies have already secured orders from government agencies, such as Pixxel, a Bengaluru-based start-up that obtained a five-year contract from the US National Reconnaissance Office to supply hyper-spectral imagery from its satellites.

The space economy in India is currently small, contributing around 2.1% to the global space economy in 2020, which amounted to USD 9.6 billion. However, Union Minister for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh believes that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to involve the private sector in space technology has broken past taboos and gained international recognition. He also notes the shift in the US perception of India as an equal collaborator in the space sector, contrasting with the situation 50 years ago when all countries looked to the US for guidance.

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