ISRO has embarked on a mission to take startups in the space sector to a higher orbit with a string of initiatives to help them realise their business potential. It is keen on formulating an exclusive space startup programme — "Space Entrepreneurship & Enterprise Development (SEED)", Secretary in the Department of Space and Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K Sivan said.
SEED is conceived as a competitive early stage encouragement programme to startups and MSMEs (Micro, Small, Medium Enterprises) keen on developing products/services in focus areas of interest to ISRO with the space agency helping them to use its facilities, officials said. A formal mechanism for the programme was expected to be announced soon, they said.
With recent reforms opening up doors for enhanced private sector participation in the space sector, ISRO is thrilled to receive several proposals from industries and startups, Sivan said. "These proposals reflect the true ambitions of young, innovative minds looking to make a mark in the space domain", added Sivan, describing startups as new-age industry partners of the space agency.
Bengaluru–headquartered ISRO, under the Department of Space (DoS), has set up three space technology incubation centres — at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Tiruchirappalli, Jalandhar and Agartala. Three more are in progress. DoS has also collaborated with Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), Niti Aayog, to launch three challenges in space domain — 'ARISE' programme as a part of Aatmanirbhar Atal New India Challenges [ANIC] for promotion of applied research and innovation in small enterprises (MSMEs-Startups).
Under this initiative, 28 proposals have been received from 24 private entities and are under evaluation, Sivan said. "Many start-ups approached us for direct collaboration and help in the area of launch vehicles, satellites and applications", he said.
ISRO officials said various opportunities and provisions, including buy-back arrangements, are being created within the agency to encourage startups. Recently, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and ISRO jointly organised a workshop on "Incubators/Accelerators for a dynamic space start-up ecosystem," in virtual mode.
The primary objective of this workshop was to bring forth a greater synergy between the DoS and incubators/accelerators in India, showcasing intent of the Department to provide support and guidance to the start-ups working in the space sector. Earlier this month, DoS entered into a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with Skyroot Aerospace Pvt. Ltd., a private company based in Hyderabad building small satellite launch vehicles.
The NDA will enable the company access the facilities and technical expertise available in ISRO centres to proceed with their launch vehicle development programme, ISRO officials said. In December, the DoS had inked a similar pact with Agnikul Cosmos Pvt. Ltd, a Chennai based start-up company located in the National Centre for combustion R&D, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, building private small satellite launch vehicle.
'Anand' remote sensing satellite built by Bengaluru-based start-up, Pixxel, is among the payloads to be launched by ISRO rocket PSLV-C51 on February 28. "We are looking into lot of things which are helpful to this (space start-up) sector", Director of ISRO's Capacity Building Programme Office (CBPO), P V Venkitakrishnan said.
Venkitakrishnan said ISRO is in the process of compiling into a book "innovations and ideas" — captured from various ISRO centres — which can be converted into products with viable market potential by startups. He said as much as 63 per cent of the business in the space sector is in the area of ground systems and space applications, which is a vast area with low risk and short gestation period, and start-ups can tap into opportunities in those segments.
"Twenty to 25 space startups have come up in a big way (India)", Venkitakrishnan said.