Every year, from October 4-10, we celebrate World Space Week. This global observance, declared by the United Nations General Assembly in 1999, recognises the contributions of science and technology in enhancing the human condition.
Why these specific dates? Well, they mark significant events in the history of space exploration:
October 4, 1957: The historic launch of Sputnik 1, the world’s first human-made satellite.
October 10, 1967: The signing of the Outer Space Treaty, which governs the activities of states in the peaceful exploration of space.
Sputnik 1: The Dawn of the Space Age
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union made history by launching Sputnik 1. With its four distinctive antennas, this spherical metal satellite transmitted radio signals back to Earth, capturing the imagination of millions worldwide. This pioneering event marked the beginning of the Space Age, leading to groundbreaking advances in space exploration and technology.
Ever wondered how Sputnik sounded? Here’s a chance: Listen to the beep of Sputnik 1. Back in the day, news reports mentioned that anyone with a shortwave receiver could tune in and hear this iconic ‘beep, beep’ as it orbited Earth.
The Outer Space Treaty: Safeguarding the Heavens
Initiated after the launch of Sputnik and amidst the space race, the Outer Space Treaty established the legal framework for international space activities. The treaty, which bans weapons of mass destruction in space and emphasises peaceful space exploration, had been signed by 114 parties and 22 signatories as of August 2023.
Space and Entrepreneurship: The New Frontier
This year’s World Space Week theme is “Space and Entrepreneurship.” It highlights the rapidly expanding commercial space sector and the potential for space-related startups.
Let’s delve into the stories of two remarkable space entrepreneurs from India.
Pixxel: Crafting Tomorrow’s Satellites
Awais Ahmed‘s childhood was steeped in dreams of space. The television space shows he watched fueled his ambition to become an astronaut. While his career path took a different direction, his passion for space remained steadfast. Instead of traversing the vast cosmos himself, he now aims to send innovative satellites into its depths.
Together with Kshitij Khandelwal, he co-founded Pixxel. Their ambition led to the launch of “Anand”, their third hyperspectral satellite, in collaboration with ISRO. Awais likens their advanced satellite technology to “an MRI for the Earth,” detecting environmental variations invisible to human eyes. From agricultural insights to energy sector analytics, “Anand” is set to pave the way for six more such commercial satellites in the coming year.
Their success is evident not just in their technological advancements but also in their collaborations and financial milestones.
Experience the brilliance of Pixxel’s hyperspectral images below.
Looking ahead, Pixxel’s vision is grand. With plans to launch 24 satellites by 2025, they aim to broaden their imaging capabilities, setting their sights on more extensive celestial exploration.
Did you know?
Pixxel launched its satellite TD-2 on Elon Musk’s SpaceX Transporter-4 mission on April 2, 2022. This satellite, part of Pixxel’s hyperspectral imaging constellation, aims to provide detailed data for sectors like agriculture and energy. With plans to launch 36 such satellites by 2023, Pixxel has secured significant funding: $25 million in a Series A round in 2022 and $36 million in a Series B round led by Google in June 2023.
Agnikul Cosmos: Trailblazing a New Era of Space Exploration
Srinath Ravichandran‘s affinity for the stars is deep-rooted. Surrounded by a family of physics educators and inspired by iconic PSLV and GSLV launches, his path seemed destined for the cosmos. Although his academic pursuits initially led him to electrical and financial engineering, the allure of aerospace never waned.
In 2017, his passion found its outlet: Agnikul Cosmos, an innovative spacetech startup incubated at IIT-Madras. Their vision was revolutionary – to democratise space access, making it as simple and cost-effective as earthly travel. They made a significant stride toward this in 2022 by inaugurating India’s first private space vehicle launch pad in Sriharikota.
Agnikul’s game-changing innovation, the Agnilet, stands out in the space tech industry. This fully 3D-printed, semi-cryogenic rocket engine, remarkable for its zero assembled parts, can be manufactured in a mere four days. It powers their premier launch vehicle, the Agnibaan, designed to be adaptable, carrying payloads up to 100kg to low Earth orbits.
Agnikul’s aspirations extend beyond just launches. They see various applications, from novel manufacturing processes to space-based entertainment and data storage. Their recent milestones, such as the successful test-fire of the Agnilet and collaboration with ISRO, are indicators of their forward momentum. Not to mention, attracting investment from stalwarts like Anand Mahindra, the chairman of the Mahindra Group, speaks volumes about their promising future.
Listen to the Interview of the co-founder –
Why the name Agnikul?
“”Agnikl” is inspired by the Sanskrit term “Gurukul”, suggesting “a place where people learn to use fire.” The Agnikul team, an eclectic mix of enthusiasts, engineers, and experts, embodies this spirit, striving to make space universally accessible.” States the Agnikul Website
In the vast realm of space exploration and technology, the narratives of Pixxel and Agnikul Cosmos epitomise the spirit of innovation and the boundless possibilities that lie ahead. Their achievements not only set new benchmarks in space tech but also inspire countless individuals worldwide to dream bigger and reach for the stars.
As we celebrate World Space Week, it’s essential to recognise and laud the tireless efforts of these trailblazing entrepreneurs who are reshaping the contours of space science. Their dedication and foresight signal a promising future where space, once a distant dream for many, becomes accessible and familiar. As we look up at the night sky, let’s remember the luminous stories of these pioneers, reminding us of the limitless potential of human ingenuity.
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