Race for space: Startups take to the sky with satellites, rocket engine

Race for space: Startups take to the sky with satellites, rocket engine

Up, up and away!

As a child how many of us had looked up at the sky and wondered what happened there? However, getting to space has largely been the preserve of governmental agencies. In India, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has ably carried the aspirations of a billion plus people to reach to the stars and recent missions like Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan have created huge excitement. Mangalyaan became so famous that the story was turned into a movie and an OTT series! And now with the Government announcing that they were opening up space and atomic energy to private players, the sky is not the limit for several startups. Called the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), this is an autonomous body under the Department of Space that looks to engage with private players.

Sky high

Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based startup, became the first private company to test upper-stage rocket engine. The 3-D printed rocket engine named after Nobel laureate CV Raman weighs less than half of conventional rocket engines with a similar capacity. Founded by Pawan Kumar Chandana and Naga Bharath Daka, who worked at ISRO earlier, Skyroot plans to make a ‘family of rockets’ and launch them in space. The first rocket, which can hurl satellites of 250-700 kgs into a lower Earth orbit, is expected to be launched by the end of 2021. The startup was launched in 2018 and has the backing of CureFit founders Mukesh Bansal and Ankit Nagori, and Solar Industries. (Text: CR Sukumar)

That cool thing in space

Founded in 2016, Agnikul Cosmos is based in Chennai. This startup makes small launch vehicles. This startup was incubated at IIT Madras and became a part of the Airbus Accelerator. The team which comprises scientists, engineers, programmers and even lawyers want to be a part of India’s space journey. Their rocket called Agnibaan is a semicryogenic engine combustor and will be 3D printed. The startup is planning to launch the rocket by the end of 2022.

Bringing down the cost of the satellites

In December 2018, Mumbai-based Exseed Space created nothing short of history by being the first private commercial organisation in the country to launch a satellite in space via Elon Musk-led SpaceX. The company, now rechristened Satellize, managed to slash the cost of building a satellite considerably. So, while earlier satellites would cost Rs 1,000 crore each to build and launch, Satellize’s technology brought this down to under Rs 10 crore each. The company was founded by Mahesh Murthy and Asshar Farhan. Their satellites are beneficial for imaging, communication and other data gathering purposes. . A range of use cases such as helping detect diseases on farms and increasing crop yields; monitoring road and infrastructure construction; helping cities govern themselves better and detect intruders via sea, forest or land; picking up distress calls of teams in remote mountainous areas for search and rescue operations are possible via Satellize. (Text: Neha Dewan)

An eco-friendly rocket

Bellatrix Aerospace, founded in 2015, makes propulsion systems for satellites and is now designing a small rocket. This Indian Institute of Science (IISc)-incubated company is designing a small rocket that can take a 150kg satellite up 550 km into space. This startup’s USP is that it has built an electric propulsion system that runs on water! The Bengaluru-based Bellatrix has also developed a green fuel that is 30% more efficient and non-toxic, which according to the startup can power conventional engines on satellites.

Big plans for a small startup

These BITS-Pilani boys were always aiming for the sky and in 2018 decided to launch Pixxel and as their tagline reads, they want to see the unseen. This startup is building a constellation of small satellites to provide data to the people of the Earth. The satellites will provide global coverage every 24 hours enabling organisations to detect, monitor and predict global phenomena in near real time. The young founders, Kshitij Khandelwal, Awais Ahmed, had been a part of the only Indian team to participate in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition earlier. Pixxel’s first microsatellite, a 15 kg cube, will be hurled into lower earth orbit in November 2020. Pixxel raised in July 2019 a pre-seed round of $681,000, according to Crunchbase

Sending pollution report to Earth

This two year old startup generates geospatial data intelligence for environmental monitoring and climate risk assessment. Blue Sky Analytics was set up by siblings Abhilasha and Kshitij Purwar and is based out of Gurgaon. In 2019, they won the Copernicus Masters Social Entrepreneurship Challenge of the European Space Agency for their innovation in using geospatial data for improved environmental monitoring. In 2019, Blue Sky unveiled BreeZo, an air quality dataset available as Application Programming Interface for researchers, governments, and private companies. The company is now working on launching Zuri, a forest and farm fire management system.

Tired of sweeping your house this lockdown? Get a robot

A new way to clean the floors

Milagrow announced the launch of three new robots – Milagrow iMap Max, Milagrow iMap 10.0 and Milagrow Seagull. These robots have been launched after three years of research keeping in mind the space management patterns of the Indian hosueholds. The robots are being launched at Amazon’s Prime Day sale on August 6 and 7.

Introducing: Self cleaning mops

Milagrow iMap Max is a wet mopping and vacuuming robot which can self-clean its mops with a pressure of 40N. This independent, self-cleaning robotic vacuum cleaner has a patented wet mopping mechanism which comes down and puts pressure of 10 N on the floor by two hydraulic shafts, based on an AI algorithm. This extra pressure on the floor cleans the most stubborn dirt and stains from the floor. The price of MilagrowiMAP Max including the water tank is Rs. 99,990.

How it works?

After mopping, this machine returns to base for self-cleaning. Before cleaning the fabric, the wash base sprinkles clean water on the dirty mop. Then the scraper, applies a pressure of 40 N on the mop to scrape it clean before allowing it to go back again for vacuuming and wet mopping. The robot goes back and starts cleaning from where it came as the cleaning map is memorized. The settings on the app can be changed to enlarge or reduce the area before the robot goes back again for self-washing. The robot comes with a reusable 1 litre dust bag and users can attach optional disposable bags.

There’s an AI in my house!

The company leverages the same AI technology which is used in unmanned vehicles. It uses a LIDAR sensor with real-time terrain recognition technology for faster mapping and path planning. With a 5200 mAh battery and a 2200 PA powerful suction to pick even small stones or beans. The robot is backed with a two year comprehensive warranty and a five year warranty on the Japanese suction motor.

Check the cleaning on your phone

The second robot introduced by the company is iMap 10.0 comes with iMap LIDAR, which can form real-time maps by scanning up to 16m, 2160/second with an accuracy of up to 8mm. Featuring 18 sensors, this robot can plan its path fast and display cleaned and left out areas in real-time on the user’s mobile. It has an octa-core CPU to facilitate faster response time.

Can it kill Covid-19?

iMap 10.0’s electronic water tank has been modified to take Sodium Hypochlorite 1% solution and claims to kill Covid-19 spores on floor, as recommended by ICMR. It also has a silent Japanese brushless suction motor with four suction levels from 800 to 2700 pa and an antibacterial microfiber cloth. It also has a triple air filter system with HEPA12 and can remove 99.5% of PM up to 0.1 microns. Equipped with a 5200 mAh battery, the robot comes with full self-diagnosis and troubleshooting display function as it works in real-time. The price for iMap 10.0 is Rs. 89,990..

A Seagull that cleans

The third and the final product introduced by the company is Milagrow Seagull. This robot uses ‘Gyro Mapping’ technology. With its anti-bacterial, antimicrobial and antiviral properties, Milagrow Seagull is best suited for hospitals as it minimizes the spread of infections. The microfibers can attach themselves to even the smallest, most microscopic dirt particles—ones that normal cloth fibres brush past. The robot can facilitate slight wet cleaning. This comes with a five year suction motor warranty and two year comprehensive warranty. The price of Seagull is Rs. 20,000 (Pics: Milagrow)

Checkout the startups disrupting the auto sector

Is Tesla scaring BMW and Mercedes?

For most of the last century, the auto industry has been known more for shutdowns than startups. Brands like Saab, Pontiac and Plymouth disappeared and not much took their places. But the advent of electric cars has provided a rare opportunity for new companies to challenge the automotive establishment. Tesla has shown that it’s possible. Founded in 2003, the company is putting a scare into the likes of BMW and Mercedes by outselling some of their most popular models. (Pic: Tesla)

Meet the EV upstarts

A new crop of upstarts, mainly based in California and China, is trying to follow Tesla’s lead and take advantage of traditional car companies’ slowness to develop battery-powered vehicles. The hurdles for these new car companies are lower than they have been in decades. Electric cars are easier to design and build than cars with internal combustion engines, because they have fewer moving parts.

Opting out

Building any car is hard and expensive. No doubt some of the startups listed here will not make it. Some have already dropped out. Dyson, best known for vacuum cleaners, abandoned its electric car dreams in October. “We simply cannot make it commercially viable,” Dyson said at the time. But some startups may have an impact, especially those with a new approach to design, a technological advantage or a deep-pocketed backer like the Chinese government. Here’s a look at some of the new challengers.

Byton, planning volume production

China is trying to use the transition to electric vehicles to become a major automobile exporter, as a matter of government policy. One beneficiary is Byton, which plans to begin volume production of an electric SUV at a factory in Nanjing next year. The cars will go on sale in the United States and Europe by the end of 2021. “The government sees electric vehicles as a chance to play at a global level,” said Daniel Kirchert, a former BMW executive who founded Byton with financial help from the government. He added, “We are not a state-planned company but really a startup.” (Pic: Byton/Facebook)

The digital car

Byton aims to be the most digital car on the road. The interior features a screen for every passenger and a screen embedded in the steering wheel. With a starting price of around 45,000 euros, or about $49,000, before taxes, Byton will cost a little more than an entry-level Tesla Model 3. “We want to create a smart device on wheels,” Kirchert said by phone from Hong Kong. (Pic: Byton/Facebook)

30,000 and going strong

Based in Shanghai, NIO is one of the few new electric car companies that is already building and selling cars. Founded by billionaire William Li, NIO has four models in production, including the ES6, an electric SUV that sells in China for 358,000 renminbi, or about $50,000. NIO is also listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has sold more than 30,000 vehicles in China since it began volume production in June 2018.

Let’s not talk profitability

But NIO appears to be a long way from profitability, reporting a loss of $353 million in the third quarter of 2019, more than sales during the same period. Deliveries this year have been hit by the coronavirus outbreak, which has depressed sales for all automakers. NIO shares have dropped about 60% since last year. NIO is considering selling its cars outside China, but hasn’t made firm plans, a spokeswoman said.

Transition to EVs

The transition to electric cars got a boost from the Volkswagen emissions scandal, which called attention to the pollution caused by internal combustion engines. So it is only fitting that the founder of one startup is Anton Piëch, known as Toni, son of Ferdinand Piëch, the former chairman of Volkswagen sometimes blamed for creating the corporate culture that bred the scandal. (Pic: Piëch)

The fast and the furious

The elder Piëch, who died last year, was not known as a fan of electric cars, but he was known for pushing technical boundaries. The car that bears the family name does that. The Piëch Mark Zero, scheduled to go on sale in 2022, will zip from zero to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds, travel 300 miles on a charge and recharge in less than five minutes, the company said. (Pic: Piëch)

Faraday Future’s comfortable car

The company, based in Los Angeles, plans to begin selling a luxury vehicle called the FF 91 by the end of the year with a sticker price of well more than $100,000. Amenities will include lots of screens and reclining rear seats that, the company said, use NASA technology to distribute the passenger’s weight evenly. The car “is meant to be a niche player in the luxury segment,” John Schilling, a company spokesman, said in an email. (Pic: Faraday Future)

Lucid: Space calling

Backed by $1 billion from the Saudi Arabian public investment fund, Lucid is building a factory in Arizona to produce the Lucid Air, a luxury car that the company said would go on sale before the end of 2020. The car is designed to exploit the space that becomes available when there is no longer a need for bulky internal combustion engines and transmissions. (Pic: Lucid)

Planning on affordability

“We have a car which is very spacious on the inside and relatively compact on the outside,” Peter Rawlinson, a Tesla veteran who is Lucid’s chief executive, said in an interview last year. Lucid’s early models will sell for north of $100,000, but the company hopes to eventually offer more affordable cars. (Pic: Lucid Motors)

Get a Canoo for your home

Another California startup, Canoo said it would offer electric vehicles next year by subscription. Customers will pay a monthly price similar to a lease, but with no fixed time commitment. The strategy helps address one of the obstacles to selling electric cars: the price, which is usually higher than a comparable gasoline vehicle. (Pic: Canoo/Facebook)

A deal with Hyundai

Canoo, led by Ulrich Kranz, who managed development of the BMW i3 electric car, has unveiled a podlike prototype that it described as an “urban loft on wheels.” Canoo plans to begin offering subscriptions in Los Angeles in 2021 and gradually expand the service to other major cities in the United States. In February, Canoo announced a deal with Hyundai to jointly develop an electric car platform — the chassis, electric motors, batteries and other components that sit below the car body. (Pic: Canoo/Facebook)

Rivian’s big plans

With backing from the likes of Amazon and the Ford Motor Co., Rivian has some of the most solid financing of any of the electric car startups. Its imprimatur also gives Rivian credibility, which is crucial for an untested startup. Rivian is accepting $1,000 deposits on electric pickups and SUVs that it plans to begin delivering from a factory in Normal, Illinois, before the end of this year. In addition, Ford plans to use Rivian’s platform for some of its own electric vehicles, including a pickup. (Pic: Rivian) (Text: Jack Ewing)