India’s space agency successfully launched the Vikram-S after much anticipation and years of work in a boost to the private sector of the nation’s space industry.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the suborbital rocket at 11:30 am local time on Friday from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota on India’s east coast.
The Vikram-S, developed by four-year-old startup Skyroot Aerospace, is a single-stage spin-stabilized solid-propellant rocket with a mass of around 550 kilograms. It carries three customer payloads, including one from a customer outside of India. Made of a carbon fiber core structure, the 6-meter-long rocket was developed in two years.
The demo mission, called Prarambh (Sanskrit for “the beginning”), is the first for Hyderabad-based Skyroot. The startup is building a series of launch vehicles named after Vikram Sarabhai, the founder of India’s space program.
In June 2020, the Indian government passed space sector reforms and established the India National Center for Space Authorization and Promotion (IN-SPACe) to allow private companies to use ISRO’s infrastructure. New Delhi has also established NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) as the business arm of the space agency to work closely with private companies and startups to boost space developments in the South Asian country.
“I am happy to announce the successful completion of the Prarambh mission, ‘the beginning’ of Skyroot Aerospace. The VKS rocket [Vikram-S] it took off at a LEA (launch elevation) of 80 degrees and an azimuth of 100 degrees, reached an altitude of 89.5 kilometers and a range of 121.2 kilometers, exactly what Skyroot Aerospace planned. All systems, as I can see, worked as planned and Skyroot Aerospace has demonstrated the capability of various subsystems that will go to the orbital launch vehicle,” said Pawan Goenka, President of IN-SPACe, Space Department, after the successful launch.
Founded in 2018 by former ISRO scientists Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, Skyroot successfully tested India’s privately manufactured solid rocket stage in December 2020. It was also the country’s first start-up in 2021 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with ISRO to launch their rockets.
The startup has raised $68 million in total, including $51 million in a Series B round led by Singapore-based GIC in September, and has a valuation of $165 million.
According to data shared by the Indian Space Association (ISpA) with TechCrunch, Indian space startups have raised more than $245.35 million, $108.52 million of which was injected in 2022 alone. The association counts Skyroot as one of its members, along with private companies such as Bharti Airtel and OneWeb as founding members.
The government is currently working on a new space policy to increase private participation and encourage investment in the country’s space sector.
In a recent interview with TechCrunch, IspA CEO Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt said the space policy would address some issues raised by industry players, including a single sanction window and the allocation of spectrum for broadcast services. satellite communication through the Department of Telecommunications.
Industry players have also called on the government to open up a foreign direct investment policy and incentives on taxes, import duties and domestic manufacturing of space equipment that have yet to be addressed.
“We are very excited to announce that we wrote history today by successfully launching India’s first privately developed Vikram-S rocket,” said Skyroot’s Chandana. “This Prarambh mission, as the name suggests, is the beginning of a new era in the Indian space ecosystem. Team Skyroot dedicates this successful mission to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who boldly started the Indian space program in the 1960s and to the Honorable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi ji who opened up the space sector to private players. And most importantly, we thank InSPACe and ISRO, all their teams and the dynamic leadership that enabled this mission in the most efficient way.”