Agnikul won, not only for innovation but also for its potential to further push India’s self-reliance in space. “It’s the star aspirations of Agnikul that’s driving it,” said a jury member.
Agnikul is looking to disrupt the small rockets space at a time when India is opening up the sector to private players.
The startup, incubated at IIT Madras in 2017, is building a small rocket with a 3D printed engine – which is lighter, has less moving parts and more efficient compared to conventional engines.
It can launch small satellites of up to 100 kg into low earth orbit. The rocket can be easily configured and kept ready for launch in a couple of weeks.
Agnikul is looking at its first launch by the end of 2022.
“We will be complementary to Isro. We are going after a market where several commercial companies are planning to launch thousands of satellites,” said Srinath Ravichandran, co-founder and CEO of Agnikul Cosmos.
Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is building a smaller rocket that can carry 500 kg to space and has heavier rockets to launch satellites of up to 6 tonnes.
Ravichandran, who scoured research labs in Los Angeles – the home of Elon Musk’s rocket firm SpaceX, identified a niche to build a small rocket when he found small satellites waiting in queue for years to get a slot on Musk’s rockets.
“SpaceX was full. These small satellites were at the mercy of a large rocket to ride piggyback to space,” said Ravichandran.
“I was particularly enthused to see the number of companies being started in the space tech genre with the two winners Agnikul and Bellatrix. It’s great to see real technological innovation come out of India which is relevant on a global scale,” said jury member Satyan Gajwani, vice chairman of Times Internet.
As a foreigner, Ravichandran also knew that breaking into the US market would be tougher and that if he had to be competitive to build a small launcher, it would be in India.
He tapped Professor Satya Chakravarthy, an expert on combustors at IIT Madras, and incubated the company at its campus.
“Our aim is to launch satellites using the rocket from anywhere in the world,” said Ravichandran, who has designed a mobile launchpad that can carry the rocket.
Front row – Nikhil Tripathi, Daya Rai and Jitender Bedwal; Back row – Nukul Upadhye and Mahesh Jakhotia
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Entropik Technology’s CEO Ranjan Kumar
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FalconX co-founder Raghu Yarlagadda
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PlayShifu co-founders – Vivek Goyal (L) and Dinesh Advani (R)
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