Pixxel, which is building India’s first private constellation of Earth-observation satellites, will launch its first satellite on an Indian rocket, shifting from an earlier plan to use a Russian one.
The Bengaluru-based startup has signed a pact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that will allow it to launch atop ISRO’s workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket in early 2021.
It had earlier planned to launch the satellite in mid-2020 on a Russian Soyuz rocket, but the timeline was pushed to end of the year before being delayed further.
ISRO chairman K Sivan confirmed the deal with Pixxel and said the space agency was keen to promote more Indian companies to take up space activities.
“We want to help Indian companies to become global leaders,” Sivan stated.
Pixxel said it signed the deal with ISRO because that gave it access to an earlier launch Window and it did not want to delay sending its first satellite into orbit any further.
The company is building a constellation of 30 earth-observation satellites that it hopes to get into orbit by mid-2023.
“The Department of Space (DOS) was very keen on us launching from here and it also made more logistical sense for us. It was an opportunity for us to work with our own space organisation and build that relationship,” said Awais Ahmed, Co-Founder and CEO of Pixxel.
“The deal was recently closed and we will be launching in early 2021 from a PSLV, which is very reliable,” Ahmed added.
ISRO’s deal with Pixxel is the second such partnership with an Indian startup that the space organisation has signed after the creation of IN-SPACe, an independent nodal agency under the DoS for allowing space activities and usage of the department’s facilities.
The first deal signed earlier this week was with Agnikul, which is building a launch vehicle that will be able to hurl 100 kg satellites into low earth orbit.
The startup was a close runner-up for the award, which was bagged by Bellatrix, another space technology startup that is developing electric propulsion engines for satellites.
In September, Pixxel said it had signed an agreement with Momentus Inc to launch its second satellite into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Ahmed said that the deal with Momentus was still on even as it will look to continue working with ISRO for future launches as well.
Globally, SpaceX is believed to offer the most affordable space launch solution for ride-share, where multiple payloads are carried in a single spacecraft, at just $5,000 per kilogram of payload.