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India’s new space with Dhruva Space’s CEO Sanjay Nekkanti.

Dhruva Space CEO and Co-founder Sanjay Nekkanti walks us through his journey from student satellites to starting one of India’s first private space companies.





In a week where India’s space program has made headlines around the world for being the first nation to soft land at the lunar south pole, we speak to the CEO of one of the country’s leading commercial space companies. Dhruva Space is working to build a sovereign network of commercial companies to support a global space market. We spoke with Dhruva Space CEO and Co-founder Sanjay Nekkanti. 

You can connect with Sanjay on LinkedIn and learn more about Dhruva Space on their website.

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Selected Reading

Sanjay Nekkanti: Leading India’s satellite revolution through Dhruva Space

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[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: Welcome to T-minus Deep Space, from N2K Networks. I'm Alice Carruth, Producer of the T-Minus Space Daily Podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics we cover in our daily program.

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>> Alice Carruth: In the week, the India Space Research Organization landed the Chandra IM3 spacecraft on the moon. We're taking a look at the country's growing commercial space industry. The Indian Space Industry is currently valued at around $8 billion U.S. dollars, and it's projected to be worth over 10 times that amount by 2040. One of the companies leading that boom is Dhruva Space. I spoke with CEO and co-Founder, Sanjay Nekkanti, about the origins of his company.

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Dhruva Space was an idea, I would say, that was started during my college days. I started building satellites when I was 19 years old. One fine day, after the success of the first Chandra IM mission, there was a scientist from Israel who had come to our university, and said we as students could actually build satellites. For me, I was simply unsure if that is really possible. I found this unusual copy, which is being handed [inaudible]. One of the early satellites that students were building were all based on amateur radio communications. So my university team requested, you know, if I could be part of the satellite mission, and be part of the whole program. And that really got me into building satellites, and you know, two years down the line, we were able to relaunch a satellite, and I was thinking that, you know, with a country with a billion people in India, but there's not a single private company that access [inaudible] could sell to global market, so that was definitely the tipping point of the-installation point for me to think about starting a private space company in India.

>> Alice Carruth: So you just mentioned it, that it's new, to India, this idea of private space. Can you talk us through how that kind of came about? And how difficult it has been for you to sort of disrupt the market, so to speak?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: India, and especially in the Space and such organization have done a lot of amazing things in Space, like we've gone to the moon, we've gone to Mars, we've had the most reliable launch [inaudible] programs in the world. I think notable of them is we have flown more than 350 foreign satellites on [inaudible] launch [inaudible]. So for the last 30 to 40 years in space in search of [inaudible] has nurtured an ecosystem of small and medium scale companies that have been building small components for the Indian Space Program. But the majority of these guys have mainly building those small building blocks, but important blocks, in the Indian Space Program. But then they move-graduated from that space, to building like a full spacecraft, or a full launch vehicle, or, you know, even doing operations. So largely, when we spoke about private space, there was definitely a wall that, you know, is this possible? Okay, you know, as I just mentioned, when I as a student was building a satellite, that also existed for me, that you know, can we as students build satellites? So it definitely took a lot of effort to bring that value, but I would say to initiate [inaudible] by the Indian government to promote the entrepreneurship in general, and bring into start of culture, has been like a major breakthrough, and in some of these-and they were seeing like today, because in the early phase, like you know, between 2012 and like say 2016, our audience-there was no audience to speak, like you know, if I would go to a private company and say hey, you know, you're buying satellite data from other countries. Would you be interested in having your own space [inaudible], they would be like, "I don't think this is possible in India." Today, where you know, companies really want to have their own space assets, I think we've come a long way. To timing this find, to get here, but to be very honest, I think the changes have happened only in the last couple of years, and growth that is being seen, especially in India, has been exponential, and not like-you know, slow going. But it's fine, it's fun.

>> Alice Carruth: So you have a MOU with the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center, known as In Space. How much is that private-public partnership important to Dhruva Space?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: See, in space, it's a new body, that is trying to enable private space, enabled in India. So you know, they're acting as a bridge, not just between government and private companies, but also in a lot of cases, trying to enable the companies to also get customers, not just within India, but also outside of India. So, they have a huge responsibility to make this ecosystem grow and thrive. For us, I would say the support that they have extended, in the last-since their formation, is very close to my heart, I would say, because they have truly lived up to what they have been created for. They have helped us at every, you know, honored every mission to space, right? Like, we have gone to space less than three times in a year, and every stage in space was instrumental in solving some of the hurdles that we had faced with [inaudible] in terms of coordinating with different agencies, to get permissions, or it could be in the form of getting access to best facilities in certain cases, also getting access to expertise from [inaudible].

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>> Alice Carruth: We'll be right back.

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>> Alice Carruth: So, you mentioned that you've been to space a couple of times. Can you talk us through the missions that Dhruva Space has already been part of?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Sure, so our first mission happened on the 30th of June, 2022, with that [inaudible] separation-[inaudible] system in this particular mission. For us, this was our first mission to space, so we were all very nervous, because all the components of this particular contraption designed, developed and manufactured in India, and it had to perform. And yeah, it did its job. Its function was to, you know, hold a dummy spacecraft, and deploy at a particular time. Because this was like a dummy spacecraft, we didn't launch it into space, but you know, it was sticking out of the deployer, not creating like a [inaudible], so then, our next mission happened on the 26th of November, 2022, where we used the same separation system to deploy two satellites called the type one and two. These two satellites are Dhruva's first two satellites, also India's first two privately-built satellites authorized by the government of India, and we just completed close to 7,000 orbits, you know, of these two satellites. And the beauty of the second mission is again the same, which is every component of the spacecraft has been designed and manufactured in India, launched on Indian launch, using a separation system that was also built by us. So where I'm getting with this whole idea of doing everything by ourselves is that if we want to make space accessible to people, or if we want to make the ambitions of several organizations to have the missions in the orders of tens, hundreds or thousands of satellites, we should be able to serve that market, and hence, you know, we've been trying to build as many technologies as possible within the company, and we've been successful on the first and second missions. The third mission was slightly different. So this flew in April of 2023, where we tested two more variants of the separation systems, which can pull larger sized satellites. One very interesting part about this mission was the deployers of, you know, which are also called the separation systems, were meant to pull payloads for extended durations. So, meaning, you know, if I want the same deployer to take a mission to a lunar orbit, or a Martian orbit, this is like a small step for us, that you know, we should be able to hold the satellites for a couple of days, and then make the deployment happen. So, we're going to build or test all these functionalities. So the last one here has been, you know, super, super fun, doing these three missions, and then [inaudible].

>> Alice Carruth: Incredible, to get them turned around in such a short space of time. Now, you mentioned, quickly, about partnerships of working with other Indian companies, so you've got a sovereign capability in the country. How much are you working with companies like Sky Root, for example, that we know of, here in the U.S.

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Denotes that really, you know, space [inaudible], Sky Root is one of them I think, well is one of them, both of them I launch-[inaudible] with Sky Root we have already purchased a launch slot on the launch [inaudible]. In the future, we will be flying the Baylor down on one of the Sky Root launch [inaudible]. With respect to other companies, consistently we have companies like Pixel, which are looking at deploying a constellation of satellites. We have companies like [inaudible], which is doing space situations [inaudible]. We have like Balactics [phonetic spelling], which are building propulsion systems. So in fact, we are involved with all the companies. We believe that, you know, we have a lot to gain from each other. So we are here trying to work together to solve our own requirements, at the same time also seeing how we can meet noble demands from India as an ecosystem, together.

>> Alice Carruth: So, you mentioned your global demands, as well, and I know that you guys are working with companies outside of India. Can you talk us through some of the partnerships that you are working on with Sidus Space, for example.

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Yes, so with Sidus, we've been contemplating the idea of utilizing each other's capabilities to some of the different markets, while a few things we are also really well-known for is the space qualified solar panels, so we are looking at the possibilities of how we could have our solar panels as part of the LizzieSat program of Sidus Space. Similarly, at the same time, it's a great platform, so we're looking at how some of the payloads that we are building can be flown on the LizzieSat Program. And I think Sidus has a pretty exciting launch premiere coming up in the next couple of months. I think one of the other partnerships that I would like to talk about is what we're doing with Kineis from France. You know, Kineis has ambitions to deploy a constellation of satellites, and provide IOT services. You know, before that, I, you know, it's like a dream come true. So here is an interesting story. I finished my bachelor's degree in 2010, and then I went on to do my Master's program in Europe. In 2011, I had applied for a French scholarship. I'm in the scholarship application, I mentioned that India and France go a really long way in terms of collaboration in space, like if you look at the early days of the Indian space program, on the rocket development, India and France collaborated on the Vicas [assumed spelling] engine. And I mentioned about it, and I said, you know, after I finished my Master's program, I will go back to my country and look at building relationships between India and French companies to build technologies together, all Space solutions together, to serve the global market. And this immense partnership is a realization of that dream of which I had, and you know, through I will be building the satellite, on which we'll be flying payload from Kineis, which is the French National Space Agency. And it will be part of the Timaeus Constellation, and together, you know, we'd be serving clients worldwide, so that's a super exciting partnership.

>> Alice Carruth: And what about Dhruva Space? What's coming up for you in the next coming months and years?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: I think we are very excited to have nanosatellites flying later next year, so we're building-so we have the P30 Platform, which is a nanosatellite platform which can be utilized for observation and communication applications. We have potentially about 8 missions that will fly within the next 18 to 24 months, so it's like, pretty busy for us, with the P30 platform coming up. And in addition to that, I think, you know, we have licensed the IMS platform from [inaudible] Space, and such organization, I think between 24 and 36 months, we will also be having [inaudible] platform going up into space.

>> Alice Carruth: What do you think about India's space ambitions coming up in the next few years?

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: I can't complain. I think we're all very, very, very excited to be part of each of those ambitions. I think there will be a lot of opportunity for private companies like us to support some of those ambitions in the future.

>> Alice Carruth: What an incredible story you have, Sanjay. I hope you'll come back onto T-Minus in the future, and tell us more about what's going on with Dhruva Space. Thank you so much for joining me today.

>> Sanjay Nekkanti: Thank you, Alice. Thank you very much for having me on the T-Minus show, and I look forward to sharing more updates as we explore space from India.

[ Music ]

>> Alice Carruth: That's it for T-Minus Deep Space, for August 26, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the show notes. Your feedback ensures we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was mixed by Elliott Pelsman, and Trey Hester. With original music and sound design by Elliott Pelsman. Our Executive Producer is Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Alice Carruth. Thanks for listening.

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