Highlights

  • India set for first space rocket launch by private company
  • Skyroot Aerospace to launch Vikram Series rocket soon
  • Vikram compared to SpaceX, Blue Origin's first rockets

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Let's see how Indian startup Skyroot Aerospace's technology compares to the first attempts by now-established space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

India is set to cross another major milestone in space. The country's first rocket launch by a private space company is expected to happen soon. So how does Indian startup Skyroot's rocket technology match up with veterans of the private space sector like SpaceX and Blue Origin?

It's just a matter of days before history is scripted in India. Skyroot Aerospace is expected to launch its Vikram-S rocket between 12 and 16 November. The space vehicle will carry 3 customer satellites in suborbital flight. The mission named 'Prarambh', or beginning, will be conducted from Sriharikota spaceport. The mission's main objective is to test and validate Skyroot's technology. The final launch date will be decided according to weather conditions.

India is famous for producing top-notch space technologies at much lower costs than other countries. Does Skyroot Aerospace live up to the expectation? Let's see how it compares to the first attempts by established space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

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We're taking a look at Skyroot's Vikram 1 rocket - named after the founder of Indian space program, Vikram Sarabhai - SpaceX's Falcon 1 rocket, and Blue Origin's New Shepard - named after the first American to go to space, Alan Shepard.

The Vikram 1 is a modular vehicle for launching small satellites. Similarly, the Falcon 1 was meant to carry small satellites. The New Shepard carries astronauts and research payloads.

The Vikram 1 can carry a payload of 290 to 480 kg, depending on the orbit that they are to be placed in. The Falcon 1 could carry a payload of 1,010 kg to the low Earth orbit. The New Shepard can carry 408 kg payloads to a height of 100 km, which is above the Karman Line where outer space begins.

The Vikram 1 is powered by solid fuel propulsion engines named after Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. The Falcon 1 was powered by the Merlin, which was a 2-stage LOX-kerosene engine. Meanwhile, the Blue Engine 3 powers the take-off and descent of the New Shepard.

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Skyroot says that what makes the Vikram 1 special is that it can be assembled and launched from any facility within 24 hours. It is also the lowest-costing rocket in its segment. The Falcon 1 had a similar USP - that of launching small satellites at a lower cost than others. The New Shepard boasts of being fully autonomous, therefore not needing any pilots. Also, it is a re-usable sub-orbital vehicle.

While the Vikram's maiden launch is expected soon, the Falcon 1 had its first test-flight in March 2006, which ended in failure. However, it successfully reached orbit after launch in September 2008. The first test flight of the New Shepard took place in 2012, and it carried humans to space successfully in July 2021.

Skyroot is a very young company, but it has achieved a lot in a short time.

The company was founded in 2018 by Pawan Chandana and Bharath Daka with seed capital from Mukesh Bansal. In 2020, it became the first private Indian company to successfully test-fire a full-scale liquid propulsion engine. The same year, it earned the title of being the first private Indian firm to successfully build and test-fire a solid rocket stage. In 2021, Skyroot was the first Indian company to successfully test-fire a 3D-printed cryogenic engine. Earlier this year, the company successfully completed full-duration test-firing of Vikram 1's rocket stage.

Skyroot is hardly the only startup trying to do its bit to conquer space.

There have reportedly been more than 100 active space startups in India since 2012. One of them, Agnikul Cosmos, recently tested its semi-cryogenic engine. In June this year, Digantara launched a space-based 'space weather system'. A company called Dhruva designs space missions, and builds infrastructure for India and foreign clients. Numer8 and Vassar Labs study climate change and its impact, while Skylo helps farmers. Private firms are also expected to build and operate ISRO's small satellite launch vehicles soon.

Having successful space companies making cutting-edge technologies is an obvious commercial advantage. But with developed countries looking to militarise space, a booming domestic space industry will help India counter much richer nations hoping to strengthen their hegemony.

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