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Google-backed space startup Pixxel set to launch 6 satellites from June

This comes almost a year after the Alphabet-owned company became part of a $36-million funding round for the Indian satellite-image startup

Pixxel co-founders Awais Ahmed (right) and Kshitij Khandelwal

Pixxel co-founders Awais Ahmed (right) and Kshitij Khandelwal

Shine Jacob Chennai

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Google-backed space sector startup Pixxel is set to come out with one of the largest satellite projects outside the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) by starting to launch the first six of its satellites by June, out of a constellation of a total of 18 satellites that the company is set to launch by next year. The first set of six satellites (in 2024) will be launched, either through the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) or through a SpaceX launch vehicle.

This comes almost a year after the Alphabet-owned company became part of a $36-million funding round for the Indian satellite-image startup. This was one of the first major foreign investments in India after the government introduced its privatisation policy. The company is one of the largest funded space startups in India, with total funding of around $71 million.

“We are planning to launch six Fireflies constellation satellites this year, starting in June. This will be followed by adding another 12 more in 2025. We are planning to have 18-24 satellites as part of the constellation. They are Earth imaging satellites,” said Awais Ahmed, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), Pixxel, a Bengaluru-based spacetech startup. Fireflies are reportedly expected to remain in space for ten years and contain high-resolution capacity.

As per the plan, the first set of satellites may be either launched using India’s trusted and versatile workhorse launch vehicle PSLV or using a SpaceX launch vehicle. The company had already launched its satellites with both these vehicles in the past. “We are looking at both options, SpaceX and PSLV, depending on our schedule and their plans, it may be a combination of SpaceX or PSLV too,” Ahmed added.

In January this year, Pixxel started its first spacecraft manufacturing facility in Bengaluru, called Mega Pixxel, where it can reportedly assemble, integrate and test 40 satellites of over 100 kg every year. After 18 Fireflies (name) satellites, the plan by the company is to come up with six more heavier satellites called Honeybees, that will complete the constellation of 24 satellites. “Right now, ours is the largest satellite manufacturing facility in the country, so no immediate expansion plans. The first of its kind for any startup in the space sector. And one of the largest such projects outside Isro in India,” he said.

According to the company, Pixxel’s hyperspectral satellites are unique in their ability to provide hundreds of bands of information with global coverage at a very high frequency, making them ideal for disaster relief, agricultural monitoring, energy monitoring and urban planning applications. They are equipped to beam down up to 50-fold more information with unprecedented detail, compared to other conventional satellites in orbit.

When asked how the Space Policy is going to help the company, he said, “The policy is a great start and liberal policy. We would love to see a Space Bill and Space Act. There have been discussions about allowing foreign direct investment in the space sector under the automatic route for some time. Clear guidelines in this area would be beneficial.”

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First Published: Feb 21 2024 | 7:00 PM IST

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