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Mission Prarambh: What it means when India Inc rides a rocket

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India’s first private space mission christened Prarambh—by Skyroot Aerospace based in Hyderabad—is set for a 11:30 am launch today from Indian Space Research Organization’s (Isro’s) Satish Dhawan Launch Centre at Sriharikota. Mint explains the significance of the mission.

Why are private space ventures required?

As a government-funded research body, Isro does not have the kind of funds required for a fully commercial venture. With demand for satellite launches growing on the back of increasing satellite-based internet and surveillance use, private space businesses are set to grow at breakneck speed. In fact, the Satellite Industry Association of India expects at least 60,000 satellite launches globally by the end of 2025. Allowing private space firms to run missions opens up government funds for research, while also helping India take a larger share of the global space market.

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What stopped private missions before?

This mission is sanctioned by In-Space, a nodal body under the department of space that authorizes private missions. The upcoming space policy, said to be in the final stages, is set to allow more such missions. India didn’t allow private missions before 2020, which is when the draft “spacecom policy” was announced, opening doors for private firms to enter the space race in India. Allowing private firms has helped the US take the largest pie of the global space market in the last three decades. The US has offered funding to support private firms, while Nasa has offered tech assistance to such firms.

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Shooting for the stars

Who will carry out the first mission?

Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup founded in 2018, is the most funded space startup in the country, having raised $68 million to date. It has built fully 3D-printed rocket engines from facilities located in Bengaluru and Chennai, and is expected to conduct the launch of the Vikram S rocket today (18 November).

Why does Isro need more funds?

The budget for 2022 allocated 13,700 crore to the department of space, of which nearly 7,500 crore is reserved for “capital space expenditure”, which includes maintenance and building of rockets and other infra. Allowing private firms to build and maintain launchers allows Isro to put more funds into research for upcoming missions such as Gaganyaan (manned space mission) and Aditya (solar research mission). Such missions are often pushed back because they don’t have short-term commercial returns.

How do local startups, stack up to int’l ones?

India is still at a very early stage in commercializing its space ambitions. Only Agnikul Cosmos, Pixxel and Skyroot have received more than $20 million each in funding. By comparison, SpaceX—the world’s biggest private space success story till date—had access to $100 million of private capital funding from its owner Elon Musk at the time of its first launch. While Indian startups are still largely at pre-commercial stage, they expect larger funding to come once first missions succeed. This could be difficult for startups.

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