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Indian rocket startup raises $51 million in private investment capital

Capitalism in space: The Indian rocket startup Skyroot has just raised $51 million in private investment capital for the development of its smallsat rocket, Vikram-1.

Operating as a private aerospace manufacturer and commercial launch service provider in the country, the Hyderabad-headquartered startup has been working on its flagship Vikram series of small-life launch vehicles. The first among them, the Vikram 1, is slated to take to the skies by the end of the year and launch small satellites to space.

The $51 million is the most any private aerospace commercial company from India has ever raised in a single funding round.

Though the Modi government has publicly encouraged the development of a private, independent, commercial aerospace industry, India’s bureaucracy has generally acted to block this effort. In 2019 it convinced the government to create New Space India Limited (NSIL), a wholly government-owned entity which is designed to retain as much control over commercial market share as possible. As recently as one month ago, the NSIL webpage described itself as aiming to “capture” that commercial market. That revealed its purpose too obviously, so the website was rewritten to now say its goal is to “spur” the Indian aerospace sector.

Because NSIL gets government money and has full control over all of India’s already developed government rockets and space facilities, it has an enormous advantage, which acts to discourage investment in new private companies such as Skyroot. This is a similar situation that existed in the U.S. for more than a half century following Apollo. NASA had the resources, controlled all launches, and thus made private investment for independent companies hard to obtain.

This only changed when NASA began awarding contracts to private companies in 2008, whereby the rockets and spacecraft produced were not owned or designed by NASA. And NASA was only forced to do so because Elon Musk happened to have enough of his own money to finance SpaceX himself.

When ISRO (India’s agency) or NSIL begin awarding contracts like this, then company’s like Skyroot will begin to blossom.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!

 

From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

 
Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.

 

“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.

 

All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

 

Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.

4 comments

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “This only changed when NASA began awarding contracts to private companies in 2008, whereby the rockets and spacecraft produced were not owned or designed by NASA. And NASA was only forced to do so because Elon Musk happened to have enough of his own money to finance SpaceX himself.

    It was not quite this easy, however. The 2008 contract required, as a first milestone, the raising of capital from external sources (Musk could not fund the whole contract by himself). SpaceX was able to raise external capital, but the other company that had been awarded the second contract was not able to raise that external capital. Investors were still leery of the ability of commercial companies to do what only governments had done before. Thus, Kistler Space went out of business and Orbital Sciences (now part of Northrup Grumman) got the second contract for this work.

    These days, it is somewhat easier to find investors for commercial space projects, but it is still risky, and some recent investments have not fared well enough to keep investor confidence high — or maybe I should say: keep confidence medium.

  • Edward: I could be remembering incorrectly, but I think in those first 2008 contracts for supplying cargo to ISS NASA only required that SpaceX and Kistler provide some of their own capital in development, and did not specify where that capital came from. SpaceX was mostly self-financed by Musk at that time, allowing him to meet NASA’s milestones in order to get paid by the agency and get him out from under. Kistler did not have deep pockets, so it needed outside investment, and at that time venture capitalists were just not willing to take the risk with a new rocket startup.

    When NASA switched to Orbital Sciences (now merged with Northrop Grumman), that company could get some investment capital, because it was long established and had a track record. It also turned to other contractors to build the system’s many components (parts of the rocket out of the Ukraine and Russia, parts of the capsule out of Europe). This spread the risk, and reduced it for all concerned.

    The success of both is why venture capitalists are now less fearful about investing in the new rocket companies.

  • Edward

    Robert,
    We both are relying upon memory, but my recollection is that Musk’s funds were drying up. In addition, my recollection is that NASA had wanted to be assured that outside groups also had confidence in the two selected companies ability to complete their contracts. My recollection is that this was why they wanted outside investors as the first milestone. It would have been too easy for a rich guy to complete the milestone if he could just use his own money (e.g. sell a company to fund COTS).

    Yes, we agree that the success of these two companies to supply NASA with services that had only been supplied by governments was a boon to investment in commercial space. It was the mid to late 1990s that Dr. Alan Binder was unable to find enough investors to complete the private construction of the Lunar Prospector spacecraft and had to hand it over to NASA for completion.

    Before Commercial Resupply Services (or before COTS), the most successful commercial space ventures were communication satellites, but in 1999 Ikonos became one of the first commercial global observation companies to put satellites into orbit. Competition with government was difficult, but some companies showed that they could provide better service for a lower cost than government had been supplying. Commercial space was getting a foot in the door, but progress was very slow. We the People had had a desire for commercial space companies for quite a while.

    Another factor that helped was the invention of the CubeSat. This invention set standards for size and shape, weight, and launch vehicle interfaces, which was the major factor that concerned universities and the two professors that invented the CubeSat. CubeSats showed that they could accomplish tasks in space for a low price. These three factors (CubeSats, CRS, and the desire for commercial space) came together close enough in time to make it all work.

    I believe that had intended that the Space Shuttle would provide such inexpensive transportation to orbit with enough available flights that commercial space would be encouraged. The Getaway Special program provided inexpensive experiment canisters that were used many times for experiments by universities, companies, and others. Unfortunately, NASA was overcome by events (and the reduced capabilities of the Shuttle), and the opposite of encouraging commercial space seemed to have happened.

    On the ISS, NanoRacks got started doing something similar to the Getaway Special. Commercializing space has been successful, over the past decade, and there are even more ideas being born for this decade. We aren’t getting the commercial space stations as early as we thought (we thought they would have started by now), but manned commercial flights have begun and are popular. This should still be an exciting decade for commercial space and the investment in it.

  • Edward

    The penultimate paragraph of my previous comment should have started: “I believe that NASA had intended that the Space Shuttle …

    Sorry for the poor editing and for any confusion as to what I was trying (and failing) to say.

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