Agnikul, a startup pioneering 3D printed single-piece rocket engines and building an orbital-class launch vehicle that can take small satellites to space, has raised Rs 23.4 crore in a pre-series A round led by pi Ventures. Other investors which participated in the round included Hari Kumar (LionRock Capital), Artha Ventures, LetsVenture, Globevestor, CIIE and existing investor Speciale Invest. Agnikul plans to use these funds for ground testing, fabrication and team expansion.
Agnikul, operating out of National Centre for Combustion Research at IIT Chennai, is developing a satellite launch vehicle for payload capacity of up to 100 kgs. The vehicle is configurable and can support a payload range of 30-100 kgs without impacting the economics. Since the engine is fully 3D printed, the manufacturing complexity associated with traditional rocket engines is moved to the design in their case, making it an easier and cheaper fabrication process that will be able to deliver launch vehicles within a few weeks, pretty much on demand. Agnikul said it is the only company in the world to design a rocket engine which can be printed in a single piece using 3D printing technology.
“We started Agnikul with the dream of bringing space within everyone’s reach. We are doing this by building nimble, reliable and modular rockets that can put small satellites in space on-demand,” said Srinath Ravichandran, Co-founder & CEO, Agnikul. “This round of investment from pi Ventures, Speciale Invest and others is a meaningful velocity boost to our journey and will directly help us get much closer to orbit,” he said.
According to reports, the space industry across the globe has grown significantly into a $350 billion market with many private players entering the sector. It is predicted that in 2022, more than 2500 small satellites will be launched compared to less than 500 today.
“I have always believed that India has the potential and the talent to create world-beating IPs (intellectual property) and products, not just in the digital domain but also beyond,” said Manish Singhal, Founding Partner, pi Ventures. He further said, “If done right, there is no doubt in my mind that India can be a leader in innovation on a global platform. We believe that Agnikul can be a great example of world-class innovation coming from India.”
It takes about six months to make a small satellite, but to launch it in the space, an organisation might have to wait up to two years. It has to rely on and find an empty spot on bigger launch vehicles such as Indian space agency Isro’s PSLV and GSLV as well as Elon Musk-led SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Last year, Agnikul had said that it aims to reduce that waiting time from two years to almost two weeks. Also, a small satellite costs about $10,000 to make, and to send it into the space one needs to spend about $50,000 apart from the huge amount of capital which gets invested in the waiting time. AgniKul had said that it aimed to reduce the actual cost of launching the satellite by one third to around $15,000. AgniKul was also eyeing Airbus’ defence and space division and was in talks to collaborate on some of the plane maker's programmes. Through Airbus BizLab accelerator programme, AgniKul was able to reach and meet senior officials at European rocket maker Ariane. It was also in discussions for potential opportunities, such as collaboration to develop rocket engines.