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Peak XV Partners backs India’s Digantara to propel space situational awareness

Digantara, an Indian space tech startup that is working on space situational awareness, has raised $10 million in a funding round led by Peak XV Partners (formerly Sequoia Capital India and Southeast Asia) as it plans to kick off commercial space operations and satellite traffic management. This is notably the first space-tech investment by the storied investor.

The all-equity Series A1 funding round saw participation from the startup’s existing investor Kalaari Capital. It also introduced Japan’s VC firm Global Brain, Campus Fund and the founders of IIFL Wealth to its cap table. The four-year-old startup has raised $12.5 million to date, including the seed round of $2.5 million from Kalaari Capital in 2021.

Space has evolved into a captivating realm and has gained the attention of governments, public bodies such as NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and also various private companies worldwide. But with the increasing number of players joining the space industry, there is a growing concern about potentially dangerous debris and objects that can cause damage to spacecraft. These objects are often too small to detect, posing a significant threat to successful space missions. Digantara strives to solve this problem using its infrastructure backed by a constellation of satellites and software.

Founded in December 2018 by Indian engineers Anirudh Sharma, Rahul Rawat and Tanveer Ahmed, the Bengaluru-based startup is developing an end-to-end solution called ‘Space – Mission Assurance Platform’ or ‘Space – MAP’ to address the difficulties of space operations and situational awareness. This will use data from different sources including the startup’s own satellites and commercial satellite operators as well as government agencies and private companies.

“We do something similar to what Google does with Google Maps, which is crowdsourcing the data,” said Sharma, co-founder and CEO of Digantara, in an interview.

Once the data is collected, the startup processes it into orbital positions that are later converted into analytics to offer decision-making intelligence.

“It shouldn’t be like any software the world has used before. It’s more of an immersive experience that we’re providing with our software platform to users,” the co-founder said.

The startup will offer three modules: one for defense with functions such as volumetric screening and satellite behavior pattern analysis, the second for commercial customers with a machine design service and the third for insurance with risk reports for each orbit and risk determination.

Sharma told TechCrunch that insurance would become crucial in the space industry as the number of satellites grows. Digantara’s platform will help insurance companies better understand the risks in such cases, he believes.

Space agencies in the U.S., Europe and Russia have had their own space situational awareness programs for some time to monitor objects in orbit and forecast their movements. However, Sharma said that these programs are not enough for a satellite operator to make better decisions. In fact, he noted that Digantara’s platform would act as an “additional layer” to what these agencies have offered.

Alongside the space agencies, startups and companies including LeoLabs, Slingshot Aerospace and ExoAnalytic Solutions in the U.S. offer competitive solutions to track space objects. Nonetheless, Sharma said Digantara’s does it differently. He pointed out that most of these existing players use ground-based radars and telescopes to track space objects and have a standard process to offer analytics through software.

Digantara takes a different approach by incorporating sensor and data fusion. This allows to collect the data not only from a single type of sensor but also from multiple sensors and sources, enabling crowdsourcing of data, the co-founder underlined.

Since its inception, Digantara has launched two demonstration missions, including the last one with SpaceX in January. However, it has yet to kick off its commercial satellite mission, under which it will launch a batch of eight satellites in orbits between 311 and 497 miles (500–800 kilometres). This part of space, called low Earth orbit (LEO), will cover the densest trajectories in space, with huge commercial traffic and high-debris density. SpaceX’s Starlink, for example, operates in LEO.

One of these eight satellite missions will be launched this year, Sharma said, adding that depending on its result, the startup will decide to proceed with the following launches.

Digantara is looking to launch its software platform in the market in Q2 2024 as a SaaS model. It will initially be available as a beta service to government agencies in India and Singapore. The startup also plans to work with the U.K. government.

Recently, Digantara expanded its presence to Singapore and also established India’s first commercial space situational awareness optical observatory in the northern state of Uttrakhand. Sharma told TechCrunch that the startup plans to have its offices in the U.S. and Europe — in addition to working with new and existing customers in Southeast Asia and India.

The fresh funds will help expand the startup’s market presence alongside building its hardware infrastructure by launching planned satellites and scaling its software development. The startup also looks to hire more staff to widen its 30-member team.

“The team at Digantara is working towards creating the most advanced SSA data collection infrastructure. We believe that this will lead to significant capability in the life cycle of managing satellites, which is a rapidly growing market. We are thrilled to partner with Anirudh, Rahul and Tanveer on this journey,” said Shailesh Lakhani, MD, Peak XV Partners, in a prepared statement.

Overall, India has become a compelling market for investors looking to put money into emerging space tech startups. The South Asian nation already has over 100 startups covering a wide range of fields such as satellite development, launchers and hyperspectral earth imagery. The Indian government recently introduced its new space policy to establish guidelines and rules for the country’s space ecosystem and detail public and private participation. Big tech including Google and Microsoft have also started showing interest in Indian space tech startups.

According to the latest data shared by Indian Space Association (ISpA) with TechCrunch, Indian space tech startups have raised nearly $294 million, with $37.62 million infused in 2023.

That said, global investors and startups looking to raise funds from international VCs currently anticipate clear foreign direct investment guidelines for the space industry to assess their business potential more effectively.

Peak XV Partners backs India’s Digantara to propel space situational awareness by Jagmeet Singh originally published on TechCrunch

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