Preparing For Lift-off
Forbes India|September 27, 2019
With new technology and falling costs, space-tech startups in India are gaining ground with domestic and global clients.
HaricHandan arakali

Bellatrix Aerospace, a space technology startup in Bengaluru, has its roots in a project that co-founder Rohan M Ganapathy had worked on while at college in Coimbatore. In his second year of aeronautical engineering, he had visited Nasa in the US and had been exposed to the concept of electric propulsion for satellites as against the conventional chemical-burning ones.

Back home, Ganapathy started building an electric thruster—with a grant of `20 lakh from JSW Steel— hoping it would help him leapfrog into a doctoral programme after his engineering degree. He graduated and, by 2015, built a proof-of-concept version of the thruster, called microwave plasma thruster. That year, he co-founded Bellatrix with his friend Yashas Karanam, an electrical engineer, and the venture was incubated at the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) Society for Innovation and Development in Bengaluru.

This June, Bellatrix announced that it had secured $3 million in pre-series A funding from a clutch of investors led by venture capital (VC) firm IDFC-Parampara, and including the Munjal Group and actor Deepika Padukone’s KA Enterprises. One of the reasons investors found Bellatrix attractive was because it’s the only venture in India to have a development contract from Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for its microwave plasma thruster, says Jatin Desai, general partner at Parampara Capital.

The development contract is unique because instead of giving a blueprint of a product, Isro has shared a problem statement with Bellatrix, and the startup is coming up with the technology and the eventual commercial product. “Normally Isro develops the technology, and gives contracts to vendors to build the product according to Isro’s design,” says Karanam, co-founder and COO at Bellatrix. “In our case, they have only given the specifications. We are developing the technology and solution and giving it to them.”

India’s space programme has thus far been a government-backed effort. But now that is changing, with the emergence of a clutch of space technology startups. From propulsion and rocket technology ventures such as Bellatrix, to satellite makers such as Dhruva Space and Team Indus that aspire to bid for entire programmes rather than supply piece-meal components, there are now about two dozen startups in this field compared to only a handful three years ago.

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