Space tech start-up Pixxel to launch satellite on Russian Soyuz rocket

Space tech start-up Pixxel to launch satellite on Russian Soyuz rocket


Pixxel, India’s first private earth imaging company, has raised $5 million in seed funding. The Bengaluru-based company’s first satellite is scheduled to launch towards the end of this year on a Russian Soyuz rocket. The company will utilize new funds to expand the team, strengthen the technology and accelerate progress towards the deployment of its constellation. The firm plans to deploy a total of 30 satellites by December 2022 for its global constellation.

The funding round was led by Blume Ventures and growX ventures and Lightspeed India. It also included contributions from Inventus Capital India and other angel investors including Stanford Angels and Ryan Johnson, a veteran in the earth imaging space. In conjunction with the funding, Ryan Johnson, previously founder and CEO at Blackbridge, a Canadian earth-imaging company, and ex-President at Planet Labs, one of the largest satellite imaging in the world, will be joining the Board of Directors at the company.

“Space technology has tremendous potential to make life on earth better and more sustainable. Our satellites will bring down the benefits of space down to earth and help us see the unseen through a unique dataset that offers an unprecedented level of detail,” said Awais Ahmed, CEO, Pixxel. “We’re glad that some very high-quality investors have decided to partner with us on this long journey and acknowledged the potential of our technology and vision in making lives on earth significantly better.”

Pixxel is building a constellation of earth imaging small satellites that will provide global coverage every 24 hours for tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems. Pixxel was founded in Feb 2019 by then 21-year olds Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal while still studying in their final year of undergraduate studies at BITS Pilani. Pixxel’s satellites will collect information-rich data at a much higher quality than today’s satellites that will then be analyzed using Pixxel’s proprietary machine and deep learning models in order to detect, monitor and predict global problems and phenomena.

The microsatellites that Pixxel is manufacturing are very compact, not more than the size of a mini-refrigerator (weight close to 15kg). Pixxel also makes sure that its satellites deorbit after their lifetime, thereby not contributing to the problem of space debris.

Pixxel had earlier raised $700,000 in pre-seed funding from Techstars and growX ventures and others in June 2019. Experts said this new round of funding is a big boost to the private space sector, especially given the Government of India’s recent push towards privatization in space. Ahmed said the recent announcement by the Indian government to set up IN-SPACe (Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre) and privatize space by encouraging startup participation has also come at the right time for the company. “We look forward to building from India for not only this country but the world,” said Ahmed.

Hemant Mohapatra, Partner at Lightspeed India said the micro-satellite movement, together with easier and cheaper access to space, has led closer than ever to the dream of providing real-time coverage of full planetary data.

“With Covid-19, we are seeing imagery demand shift even faster away from drones and airplanes to satellites,” said Mohapatra. “Their (Pixxel) platform-centric approach to satellites, payload, data, and associated AI-led analytics is one of the boldest and most comprehensive we have seen.”

Sanjay Nath, Managing Partner at Blume Ventures said Pixxel has identified a unique opportunity in the remote sensing space, to solve huge problems across industries that have never been tackled before. He said the time for space tech is now, driven by many tailwinds – the proliferation of microsatellites, reduced launch costs, and the need for more real-time deep intelligence on the planet. “The founding team has a special spark, and I still remember meeting Awais (Ahmed) and Kshitij (Khandelwal ) for the first time on campus in their final year of engineering,” said Nath.

Sheetal Bahl, Partner at growX Ventures said Ahmed and Khandelwal have done a “great job” of furthering Pixxel since the investment firm first backed them last year. “We believe they are on track to create a one-of-its-kind cutting-edge Earth-imaging satellite constellation.”

Valued at around $7 billion, the Indian space industry is just around 2 per cent of the global market that stands at around $360 billion. According to a report by consulting firm PwC and Antrix Corporation, the Indian space sector has the potential to become a $50 billion industry, growing at a compound annual growth rate or CAGR of 48 per cent over the next five years.

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