New Delhi: A “foreign” company—which is the parent of an Indian startup—will launch a satellite along with 20 other satellites, when the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launches its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle C51 (PSLV-C51) on 28 February. This has led to questions among the people following the matter as to whether the concessions and other related benefits being provided by Government of India to help Indian startups, were also being availed of by foreign entities.
On 28 February, ISRO is scheduled to launch a satellite named “Anand”, which has been built by a Bengaluru-based space startup, Pixxel Space Technologies. This will be among 20 other satellites that will go to space on the PSLV-C51 platform.
Pixxel Space Technologies Inc (whose legal name is Syzygy Space Technologies, as told to The Sunday Guardian by one of their founders, Awais Ahmed), as per the documents filed with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), is defined as a “subsidiary of a foreign company”.
While replying to queries shared by The Sunday Guardian (reproduced in the latter part of the story) seeking the name of the “foreign company” of which Syzygy space is a subsidiary of, Ahmed stated that “the parent company of Syzygy is Pixxel Space Technologies, Inc”, but did not elaborate on the name of the foreign company of which Pixxel is a subsidiary.
Ahmed, while responding to another query from The Sunday Guardian, regarding whether or not Pixxel (or Syzygy) has availed any kind of concession that is provided by the ISRO, Government of India, to startups especially for the launch of “Anand”, stated that: “Our commercial agreements with other com mercial entities such as GK Launch Services, NSIL or SpaceX et al are the company’s internal information which I believe you would understand.”
From 2014 to 2019, ISRO earned over Rs 1,245 crore by launching satellites from 26 different nations, which does not include Rs 91.63 crore collected in India’s foreign exchange earnings in 2018-19 alone. Of the 50 tonnes that were lifted by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in these five years, around 17% consists of foreign customer satellites.
The fact that no details are available about the identity of the foreign company of which Pixxel is the subsidiary of, have led to questions. According to authoritative government sources, the issue of the “lack of clarity on the foreign entity” of which Pixxel is a part of, has been raised at relevant platforms by a senior government official.
Another issue that has raised concern is that none of the data downloading facilities that satellite “Anand” will be using are based in India, despite the satellite using an Indian government platform and assistance from the Government of India to place its satellite in space.
In November 2019, the Bengaluru-based Pixxel announced that it had signed an agreement with Italian firm Leaf Space for launching the first of its 24 earth imagery satellites in July next year. Through this agreement, Leaf Space will provide the support service to the satellite launched by Pixxel.
In their application filed with the US Federal Communications Commission, which is an independent agency of the United States government that regulates communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable across the US, Pixxel founder Nadeem Alduri Awais Ahmed and Khandelwal Kshitij Gokul, have given its mailing address as Palo Alto, which is a city in California. In its filing with the US Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company has stated that it was incorporated in the state of Delaware, US.
In December last year, Pixxel entered into an agreement with NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), a Government of India company under the Department of Space, to launch its first remote-sensing satellite on an ISRO PSLV rocket. IN-SPACe, a body under the Department of Space (DOS), was established for enabling private players to undertake space activities in India. The Sunday Guardian sent a detailed mail to officials at the Department of Space and to the chairman of ISRO seeking their response on the matter, but till the time of the story going to press, no response was received.
The Sunday Guardian also reached out to Pixxel with a set of questions and got the following response which was shared by Awais Ahmed.
Q: Syzygy space technologies, another company, founded by the founders of Pixxel, has been registered as a subsidiary of a foreign company. Can you tell us the name of the parent company of Syzygy space technologies and where it is headquartered?
A: The name of the parent company is Pixxel Space Technologies, Inc. Syzygy Space Technologies is the legal name of Pixxel India. The office, team, and the manufacturing facility is in Bengaluru. We’re a global company with entities in India and the US with expansion soon to happen in Europe and other places.
Q: Whether Pixxel (or Syzygy) has availed any kind of concession/subsidiary that is provided by the ISRO, Government of India, to startups, especially for the launch of “Anand”?
A: Our commercial agreements with other commercial entities such as GK Launch Services, NSIL or SpaceX et al are the company’s internal information which I believe you would understand.
Q: What kind of experience in building satellites does Pixxel have? And where is the satellite building facility of Pixxel located?
A: Pixxel CEO Awais Ahmed has experience working on satellites as part of Team Anant, the student satellite team of BITS Pilani where he worked on space hardware under the guidance of ISRO scientists. He was also the engineering lead at Hyperloop India where he built India’s first hyperloop and presented it to Elon Musk and the SpaceX team in LA.
The team consists of very abled individuals from Team Indus who have experience building lunar landers and rovers. The team also has ex ISRO and DRDO scientists as employees, advisors and consultants. The satellite building facility of Pixxel is located in Bengaluru.
Q: Can you share with us where the downloading and dissemination facilities of Pixxel space technologies are located?
A: The data downloading facilities/ground stations are around the world (Italy, NZ, Sri Lanka et al.) thanks to our partnership with LeafSpace. There are plans to set up some in India down the line too when it makes economic sense. LeafSpace is a ground station service provider based out of Italy. We have partnered with them for the ground station support rather than spending money on setting up our own infrastructure since as a startup we have to be judicious with our spending. The data storage and dissemination will happen on the cloud from providers like Azure, AWS etc.
Q: Will the data generated by Pixxel’s satellite be allowed to be disseminated in India?
A: Yes, the data will be disseminated in India and the world alike.