Indian rocket startup Skyroot Aerospace said on Friday it had raised $51 million in a funding round led by Singapore sovereign investor GIC, which it plans to use to begin commercial satellite launches by the middle of next year.
The funding follows the Indian government’s push to get the country’s private sector to complement its state-run space program known for its affordable launches and missions.
India’s unmanned Mars mission in 2014 cost only $74 million, less than the budget of the Hollywood space movie “Gravity.”
Still, India accounts for only about two percent of the $360 billion global space economy.
Skyroot says it is making India’s first privately developed space launch vehicles - built with an all-carbon fiber structure that can launch up to 800 kg (1,760 pounds) of payloads to low-Earth orbit.
It already has an agreement with the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for sharing facilities and expertise.
“This round will help us get to full-fledged commercial satellite launch scale within a year from now,” said Skyroot co-founder Naga Bharath Daka, formerly an engineer with ISRO. “We have started booking payload slots for our upcoming launches.”
The company told Reuters the aim was to have its first commercial launch in mid-2023.
GIC’s India managing director, Mayank Rawat, will join Skyroot’s board after the funding.
The Indian government says that while global companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have revolutionized the space industry by cutting costs and turnaround time, Indian private players had remained mere vendors or suppliers to ISRO for long.
In the past few years, however, more than a dozen Indian firms developing satellites, rockets and related support systems have come up.