Before we talk about business, how best can you describe the journey of Dhruva space since its humble beginnings to where it is now?
Sanjay Nekkanti, CEO: “Dhruva Space was established in 2012 with a vision to pioneer the privatization of the space industry in India. We have come a really long way since we started the company to receive the coveted National Startup Award by the Govt of India, recognising our efforts in the domain of satellite technology.
The Startup India scheme, which was still in the works when Dhruva Space was created, has truly been a game-changer. As the first awardees of National Startup India Awards in 2020, we are proud to say this recognition has led to Dhruva Space taking its products to the global market where the Government of India facilitated fruitful interactions with the multiple stakeholders in the UAE, Finland, USA, and, most recently, France and Singapore.”
Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy, Chief Financial Officer: The Company’s first revenue-generating financial year was 2021, where it generated turnover of INR 50 lakh. In a year, we went from a 3,000 square-foot facility to a 10,000 square-foot facility in Hyderabad; we hope to grow to about INR 100 Crores by FY 24, by which time we aim to have our own AIT facility up and running.
In October 2021, Dhruva Space raised INR 22 crore in funding led by Indian Angel Network (IAN) Fund, Blue Ashva Capital and Big Capital. Till date, the company has raised close to US$9 million. That said, in the last year since June 2022, Dhruva Space has completed three Space missions, in its endeavours to make Space accessible frequently and cost-effectively on a reliable basis. We Space-qualified our 1U Satellite Orbital Deployer (DSOD-1U) onboard ISRO’s PSLV-C53; we launched and successfully deployed two CubeSats – Thybolt-1 and Thybolt-2 – onboard PSLV-C54; and more recently, we Space-qualified our 3U and 6U Satellite Orbital Deployers (DSOD-3U and DSOD-6U, respectively), and our Orbital Link (DSOL) for satellite-based data relay applications onboard PSLV-C55.
Dhruva Space has also earned recognition from the Government of India through the 2020 National Startup Award for their work in Space & Satellite Technology, and the 2022 Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Telecom Skill Excellence Award for their work in Satellite Communications. Other prestigious awards include the 2022 Innovation for India Awards from Marico Innovation Foundation as well as ‘Best Startup – Silver’ at the 2022 Telangana State Industry Awards.
Dhruva Space has roughly 60 full-time employees – across engineering, business development, legal and regulatory, and marketing roles – including the four co-founders and consultants, and we are working on growing our team as part of our scaling-up as a whole.”
What are the challenges & opportunities you see in the space industry?
Sanjay Nekkanti, CEO: “It is extremely important to speak about the challenges being faced across the Space industry so that entities in the industry can collectively work together to increase India’s presence in the global Space economy.
For a long time, India’s space industry was State- or Government-run; now, we observe the Government of India empowering the privatization of the Sector. ISRO has been the torchbearers of the industry.
There are three factors contributing to the growth in participation of private firms in the space sector: policy, access to capital and growth in the general ecosystem to serve markets outside of India. All this is fuelled by the tremendous growth of requirements for satellites globally. A key to commercial success in the Space industry is the flight heritage of the systems. It helps that India is known for its thriving IT industry and its Space programme, the latter for which 400 ISRO-vetted MSMEs have demonstrated active and continual support over the last five to six decades. The current Government has been very forthcoming in bringing about an interesting revolution where private players experience a level playing field in trying to support not just local requirements but also global requirements too. This is reflected in the recently-published Indian Space Policy 2023 in which the roles of Department of Space, ISRO, IN-SPACe, and NSIL are clearly defined.
Just look at the infusion of capital into the Private Space Sector from 2012 till 2022; it comes to US$50-60 million and this figure will increase, signalling that investors are interested. Additionally, the Central Government has earmarked US$137 billion for the Department of Space in the Union Budget 2022-23. Considering Space is very close to Defence, the Government has a lot of push power towards Make-in-India which is all adding up to people foraying into this Sector.
The timing of the vitalisation of the Private Space Sector has been integral, considering there are many small satellite requirements globally. The projections are estimated to be in the tens of thousands in number; in order to meet any of those demands, the global supply chain needs to be robust and strong. These startups that exist in the ecosystem along with 400-odd companies that build small components for the Indian Space Programme are gearing up to benefit from this sudden ‘Space Rush’.
All three of these factors work symbiotically. We are already seeing private companies raising substantial capital, leveraging a greater degree of autonomy in making decisions while working with regulatory bodies such as IN-Space to maintain a certain level of accountability, and engaging the public in a more detailed dialogue around Space and Satellite Technologies. Such support will inexorably boost participation not just across startups but also investors and stakeholders, as well as progressive collaborations.”
Krishna Teja Penamakuru, COO: “Any Space Mission requires three pillars essential to its success:
- the Space segment: manufacturing of the spacecraft and its subsystems, integrating the same with the payload;
- the Launch segment: manufacturing of separation systems for the deployment of the spacecraft;
- and the Ground segment: manufacturing and on-site assembly of the Earth Stations, along with the setup to operate the spacecraft in orbit including downlink of data
Keeping in mind the aforementioned, Dhruva Space has merged these three pillars together for the realization of their full-stack solutions in order to build, launch and operate satellites. That said, the company indigenously designs, develops and tests its products: Satellite Platforms & Sub-systems (including space-grade solar arrays), Satellite Orbital Deployers and Satellite Earth stations.”
Are you seeking any support from the government for upcoming missions?
Sanjay Nekkanti, CEO: “The Government of India has been very supportive of all three of Dhruva Space’s missions, as well as the missions of many other NGPEs (Non-Governmental Private Entities) to enhance the diffusion of Space technology and to boost space economy within India. Hence ISRO has been complementing the Department of Space in its objective of opening up the Space sector to private industries; we have seen this through the commercialisation undertakings at NSIL; promotion and authorisation activities at IN-Space, as well as the capacity-building efforts at ISRO.
Furthermore, given Dhruva Space’s payload-agnostic technologies, we are already in detailed discussions with various Ministries across the Government of India for potential projects.”
Can you talk about the small satellite-launch market? What does it mean for players like you?
Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy, CFO: The market is seeing a ‘small satellite manufacturing Zeitgeist’, both in India and globally, due to lower costs for developing and launching satellites. The figures speak for themselves in that the global small satellite market size was valued at US$4.9 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow from US$ 5.6 billion in 2022 to US$ 12.02 billion by 2029. Furthermore, it is predicted that by 2025, the ‘Make in India’ satellite manufacturing segment will be the second fastest growing in the Indian Space economy, and we are very excited for this!
It is fortuitous that existing significant launcher organisations, including ISRO, have announced intentions to increase the number of launches in the coming years, anticipating large volumes of satellite launches, which for us paves a yellow brick road towards our vision of rapid constellation deployment missions.
Two of Dhruva Space’s satellite platform segments are nanosatellite and microsatellite classes. We’ve noticed the increasing market demand for missions around these segments over the past year: the nanosatellite segment will witness significant growth over the small satellite market forecast period owing to increasing usage for Earth observation, while the microsatellite segment will see decent growth due to increasing use of CubeSat for space exploration and scientific applications.”
Would you associate with government projects, including in the defence sector? What are the advantages of such an association?
Abhay Egoor, CTO: “Government projects are certainly a boon for any private player in the Indian Space industry. There is a growing use of satellites by institutions of strategic importance in communications, navigation, Earth observation, experimentation and demonstration of new and emerging technologies and a lot more. The government segment will see notable growth as an increasing number of solutions are now being enabled by space technologies. This also has a notable impact on Public Procurements, which is a key contributor to commercial sustainability for the emerging private sector.
We also see that promotion of dual-use technologies is often hastened by use and adoption in the defence sector. Government projects are certainly a key driver in our commercial and technical success.
At Dhruva Space, one of our offerings is that we manufacture satellite platforms and their subsystems including Space-grade Solar Arrays. It is worth noting there are less than 10 companies in the world that can design and manufacture Space-grade Solar Arrays and we are one of them. Dhruva Space is one of the first private Indian company to secure an end-to-end design-and-development order for Space-grade Solar Arrays for a strategic customer in India.”
What is your message to youngsters who wish to become a ‘spacepreneur’?
Sanjay Nekkanti, CEO: “I always say ‘dream big’. You must have an unrelenting passion for the field and the vision of your company. There will be hardships along the way and many times, you may feel like there may not be much progress or success, but never give up on the dream that got you here in the first place.”
Abhay Egoor, CTO: “The type of team you have is the biggest and most important factor in overcoming most challenges you may encounter in the early phases of your business. They’re the ones who will be with you through the whole execution phase of the idea; ideation is one part but to make that idea a reality it is a different ball game! For example, we develop satellites, but one person will not have all the skill-sets. The team should have varying yet complementary skill-sets. I have an Electronics Engineering background and my co-founder Krishna Teja has a Software background while Sanjay has a Space & Telecommunications background. But one range of skills that does not get due importance is actually of the non-technical variety, such as running the company effectively, marketing and commercialising your products and services, and regulatory and legal affairs. If you do not have this in your core team, you’ll start seeing problems sooner than you think!”
What is your ultimate goal in the next 5-10 years?
Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy, CFO: “We hope to grow to about INR 100 Crores by FY24, by which time we aim to have our own AIT facility up and running. We are in the planning phases of this AIT facility which would be a Spacecraft Manufacturing Facility that would be integral in Dhruva Space’s scale-up road map, as we take on more commercial projects. We also intend to fly on every ISRO PSLV, launching either our own or our customers’ payloads. And, of course, we also aim to have a much larger team, contributing a great deal to our R&D and the overall culture of life at Dhruva Space.”