Here is a brief Q&A format of our talk.
Q: Can you give a brief introduction about yourself & what is that you are trying to do in SpaceTech?
A: Speciale Invest is a US$ 20 million fund that’s run by my partner Arjun and myself. We have a deep inclination of backing up disruptive companies & we don’t shy away from risks.
I got introduced into SpaceTech by an ISRO scientist who said he wanted to build a small satellite.
I spent the next 18 months studying what a small satellite is and studying what is going on in the industry. We might be 18–24 months early but given the space that we operate, we think this is the right time to back up such companies. In the next 18–24 months the market is going to heat up given that governments are acting up towards privatisation, we think this is the right time to probe deeper into the domain.
Q: Can you tell us about the ecosystem and the opportunities that exist in the SpaceTech industry?
A: There are 2–3 large over-arching trends that are driving the direction and innovation in Space.
First being the cost of the launch of satellites are coming down rapidly. I guess around 10–15 years ago, the price of a kg of fuel being US$12000 and now it is hovering around US$1000–1500 a kg.
What that means that it is breaking barriers for a wide set of audience to send satellites out.
The second change being the computation power increasing day by day in different industries and the same has caught up with SpaceTech as well.
From taking 18 days for a satellite to go around and come back to the same place to get a photograph of it, it has now come down to one day, which is mainly because of increase of computation power and the decrease in the size of satellites.
But one thing that has remained a constant is the way the big Space agencies operate. I don’t think that NASA, the Russian Space Agency or the ISRO have radically changed their launch capabilities - at least not making it smaller, as their ambition is towards making it more large scale.
There are over 70 companies that have said that they will build the next launcher. This will further lead to an increase in opportunities for people to put their satellites in the orbit.
The opportunities that I don’t particularly see here but still exist is debris management. I’ve also heard of asteroid mining, in space manufacturing. I am sure they will come to India in a few years but that’s sort of the length and breadth of what’s happening in space tech.
Q: What is the support system?
A: As we know ISRO is the one big pillar & everything will be built around it. The state of Kerala in specific is one to take note of, they have a division called the Kerala Startup Mission that is quite supportive. They have come up with something called Space Park, which is a large infrastructure & they have the knowledge of working with ISRO. They are able to put a good breeding ground on how companies can do something in Space.
Q: What are the business models and the monetisation trends that you have seen in startups that work in the Space domain?
A: It is interesting both globally and in India, how the Space industry sort of mirrors similar to that of the Electronics industry. Which means that while you are working on your core product, you tend to pick up small NRE (Non-recurring Engineering) contracts along the way from either the defence or the existing Space agencies and gain revenue from them.
Q: If colonisation has to start on different planets, how do you think we can get the machines to enable construction activity?
A: I think this is a question for Elon Musk rather than me. But if I were to take a guess, I think most of it would happen there itself with some being transported from here.
Q: Any idea of how keen is ISRO on working with startups?
A: I believe they are working with a set of chosen companies. I am told that 12 months ago, there was a startup policy which involved talking to the community of startups on, if there will be a collaboration with ISRO, what it should look like & I am sure they’ve gone through few cycles of guidelines that are already in place.
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