India’s First Private Satellite Earth-Imaging Company Pixxel Raises US$5M Seed Funding

Pixxel plans to launch 30 satellites by 2022, with the first scheduled to launch towards the end of 2020

Indian spacetech startup Pixxel has raised US$5 million in a seed financing round led by Blume Ventures, growX Venture Management, and Lightspeed India, according to a press statement released on Wednesday.

Other investors who participated in the round include Inventus Capital India, joined by angel investors Stanford Angels and Ryan Johnson, earth-imaging veteran and Co-founder and CEO of Canadian earth-imaging company Blackbridge. Johnson will also join Pixxel’s Board of Directors as part of the deal, the statement noted.

Pixxel had previously raised $700,000 in a pre-seed funding round from Techstars, growX Ventures and other angel investors in July 2019. The fresh funding brings Pixxel’s total capital haul so far to $5.7 million, according to the statement.

The startup will utilize the fresh funds to expand its team, strengthen its technology, and accelerate progress towards the deployment of its constellation of satellites, the statement said.

Pixxel is India’s first private earth-imaging company, and is building a constellation of small satellites that will provide global coverage every 24 hours.

“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 unprecedented level of detail,” CEO at Pixxel, Awais Ahmed said.

Founded in 2019 by Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal in their final year of undergraduate studies at Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, Pixxel claims that its satellites can collect information-rich data at a much higher quality than today’s satellites.

Pixxel’s proprietary machine and deep learning models analyze the data to detect, monitor and predict global problems and phenomena, the statement claims. The startup aims to deploy a constellation of 30 satellites by 2022, with the first satellite scheduled to launch towards the end of this year on a Soyuz rocket, it added.

The micro-satellites that Pixxel is manufacturing are the size of mini-refrigerators, and are therefore compact, weighing close to 15 kilograms, according to the statement. The startup also ensures that its satellites de-orbit after their lifetime, thereby not contributing to the problem of space debris, the statement noted.

According to a 2019 DataLabs by Inc42 report, there are 120 active aerospace startups in India, with 64% of them incorporated in or after 2014. However, it was only in June this year that the country’s Union Cabinet, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced the deregulation of space and atomic energy industry to allow private participation.

Following the announcement, the Department of Space is setting up the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), which will function as an arm of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to promote, hand-hold, monitor and supervise space activities by private entities.

IN-SPACe will be functional by the end of the year and will also guide private companies with ISRO’s infrastructural, scientific and technical resources to boost their space programs.

“The recent announcement by the Indian government to set up IN-SPACe and privatize space by encouraging startup participation has also come at the right time for us. We look forward to building from India for not only this country but the world,” Ahmed ****added.

Hemant Mohapatra, Partner at Lightspeed India, said, “The micro-satellite movement, together with easier and cheaper access to space, has led us closer than ever to the dream of providing real-time, 24x7x365 coverage of full planetary data.”

“With COVID-19, we are seeing imagery demand shift even faster away from drones and airplanes to satellites. Their platform centric approach to satellites, payload, data, and associated AI-led analytics is one of the boldest and most comprehensive we have seen, and we are very excited to go on this journey with them!” he added.

The global commercial satellite imaging market was worth $2.24 billion in 2018, and is expected to grow at a rate of 11.2% to reach a valuation of $5.26 billion by 2026, according to a report by Allied Market Research.

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. The time for space tech is now, driven by many tailwinds–the proliferation of micro-satellites, reduced launch costs, and the need for more real-time deep intelligence on our planet.”

Sheetal Bahl, Partner at growX Ventures, said “Awais and Kshitij have done a great job of furthering Pixxel since we first backed them last year, and we believe they are on track to create a one-of-its-kind cutting-edge earth-imaging satellite constellation.”

Header image courtesy of Pixxel

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Monika Ghosh
Monika Ghosh is a Staff Writer at Jumpstart

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