In the field of space technology, innovation and vision are crucial for success. Dhruva Space truly embodies these qualities. The Hyderabad-based Space startup has completed three successful space missions in less than a year, positioning themselves as a key player in the Indian and global ‘New Space’ market, as they strive to fulfill their motto of ‘Diverse payloads, distinct space missions.’
The leadership team of Dhruva Space consists of co-founders who have been close friends since their school and college days. Sanjay Nekkanti serves as the Chief Executive Officer, Krishna Teja Penamakuru as the Chief Operating Officer, Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy as the Chief Financial Officer, and Abhay Egoor as the Chief Technology Officer. Nekkanti founded Dhruva Space in 2012, and in 2018, Egoor, Penamakuru, and Surapureddy joined the team.
Dhruva Space has made a significant mark in the space technology industry with its unwavering commitment to advancing India’s private space ecosystem. The Enterprise World proudly recognizes Dhruva Space as one of the top space technology companies to watch in 2023.
Unveiling the Legacy
Dhruva Space is a full-stack space-engineering solutions provider that offers a comprehensive range of services in the satellite domain. Their expertise covers the full gamut, from designing and developing satellite platforms and sub-systems (including space-grade solar arrays) to satellite orbital deployers and earth stations. Unlike other companies that focus on specific aspects, Dhruva Space integrates the three pillars of any Space Mission – Space, Launch, and Ground – and guides customers through an end-to-end process for their missions.
While Dhruva Space does not manufacture launch vehicles or payloads, it has found its place in a market where customers seek to leverage space technologies in various applications. The company is applications-agnostic, meaning they adapt to meet the needs of various customers.
Currently, Dhruva Space operates from a 10,000-square-foot facility in Hyderabad, where all their products and services are developed in-house. But as the company has attracted more commercial contracts in both Government and civilian verticals, the team is planning to set up an AIT (Assembly, Integration and Testing) facility to meet the en-masse demands of its scale-up of operations and growing customer base. As we have seen in history, following the initial phase of space exploration and technology consolidation, there is a surge in businesses seeking to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the emerging ‘New Space’ era.
Full-Stack Approach to Space-tech
Dhruva Space lives up to its “reliable, faster, affordable” statement through strategic initiatives and a customer-centric approach. “Typically having a space mission in orbit entails working with dozens of suppliers at the same time,” avers Sanjay Nekkanti, CEO, “This has a huge impact on cost, reliability and turnaround times. Providing a full stack solution is Dhruva Space’s competitive advantage as we can send up missions faster, economically without impacting reliability. This is the need of the hour in the age where customers are not looking at sending just one or two satellites to Space but rather considering sending dozens of satellites to Space, to improve satellites-enabled services on planet Earth.”
Following a customer development model and embracing a full-stack vision, Dhruva Space designs and develops satellite platform structures, subsystems, launch deployers, and Earth Stations. Their main customers are payload providers who wish to own their space assets. Additionally, Dhruva Space serves customers in civilian and defense sectors both in India and globally.
Krishna Teja Penamakuru, the COO, highlights that Dhruva Space remains committed to continuous innovation and investment in research and development (R&D). As Penamakuru states, while they have achieved success, they will persistently pursue innovation and R&D, ensuring their endeavours reflect their ongoing commitment to advancement.
Dhruva to the orbits
As the CFO of Dhruva Space, Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy emphasizes the company’s significant accomplishments over the past year. The company has experienced steady revenue growth since its first revenue-generating financial year in 2021, with a turnover of INR 50 lakh.
Surapureddy adds, “As Dhruva Space expanded from a 3,000 to a 10,000-square-foot facility, the company’s goal is to grow to about 100 Crores by FY 24, with plans underway to have our own 1 lakh-square-foot Spacecraft AIT facility up and running by then.The company has also secured significant funding, raising close to US$9 million to date, with INR 22 crore raised in October 2021, led by Indian Angel Network (IAN) Fund and Blue Ashva Capital.”
Dhruva Space has achieved three successful space missions in the past year, demonstrating its dedication to making space more accessible, frequent, and reliable. Their 1U Satellite Orbital Deployer (DSOD-1U) has been space-qualified and deployed on ISRO’s PSLV-C53. Additionally, they have successfully launched and deployed two CubeSats, Thybolt-1 and Thybolt-2, on PSLV-C54.
These satellites are the first authorized by IN-SPACe and to be successfully deployed into orbit; till date the two satellites have completed around 3000 orbits. More recently, Dhruva Space has qualified their 3U and 6U Satellite Orbital Deployers (DSOD-3U and DSOD-6U) and their Orbital Link (DSOL) for satellite-based data relay applications on board PSLV-C55.
Notable figures, including Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Minister Nitin Gadkari, Minister G Kishan Reddy, Minister Piyush Goyal, Minister Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, ISRO Chairman and Secretary of the Department of Space S. Somanath, and IN-SPACe Chairman Dr. Pawan K Goenka, Rocket Boys actor Jim Sarbh and musician Chinmayi Sripada have expressed support for Dhruva Space’s growth.
At Dhruva Space, team members are encouraged to find their passion and explore different verticals within the space industry, whether it be in engineering, regulatory and legal, production and procurement, sales and marketing, or other areas.
Penamakuru, COO, says, “The company values the dedication and passion of its employees, who have played critical roles in the success of various missions and projects. According to our philosophy, a team with diverse skills and interests can create innovative solutions to complex challenges in the space industry.”
The Entrepreneurial Mindset
Nekkanti believes that entrepreneurship is a challenging yet rewarding journey. Having participated in the history-making SRMSAT project in 2011 – India’s first student nanosatellite project with ISRO – he emphasizes that entrepreneurs should have a deep passion for their venture and believe in its potential to make a positive impact on society. This passion and belief serve as sources of motivation and resilience during difficult times.
Nekkanti’s ultimate goal is to create a sustainable and profitable business that benefits both the economy and society. With this vision in mind, he founded Dhruva Space in 2012, aiming to lead the privatization of India’s space sector. Nekkanti understands the significant responsibility that comes with this vision and is fully committed to leading the way in this field.
India’s Privatization of the Space Sector
Nekkanti acknowledges the positive impact of the Indian Government in promoting privatization of the space sector, empowering private players to innovate, and opening up new opportunities.
According to Nekkanti, there are three key factors driving the increased involvement of private entities in the space industry: favourable policies, access to capital, and the growth of the overall ecosystem to serve global markets. He also highlights India’s reputation as a hub for IT and space-tech, which has fostered a conducive environment for private companies in the sector.
Nekkanti emphasizes the significance of “flight heritage” or “Space heritage” in the space industry. He points out that many small companies in India have actively supported the Indian Space Programme for several decades, contributing to the country’s space legacy.
According to Nekkanti,“The Indian Government has been supportive of private players in the space sector, creating a level playing field for companies to support local as well as global requirements. The Economic Survey of 2021-22 identified 101 private space startups in India, and this number has since grown”
The private space sector in India has attracted significant capital infusion, with over US$50-60 million raised since 2012, and this figure is projected to increase. The establishment of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), along with the release of the Indian Space Policy 2023, indicates further developments and advancements in this field. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on the progress and future prospects of the Indian private space sector.
Startup Space boom
The timing of the emergence of private startups in the space ecosystem is crucial, particularly due to the growing global demand for small satellites. The projections indicate that the number of small satellites needed could reach tens of thousands. To fulfill these demands, it is essential to have a strong and resilient global supply chain in place.
Nekkanti adds,“The startups that exist in the ecosystem, along with 400-odd companies that build small components for the Indian Space Programme, are gearing up to benefit from this sudden ‘Space Rush’. The Government of India has a lot of push power towards Make-in-India, which is all adding up to people foraying into this sector.”
Nekkanti acknowledges that private companies in the space industry are raising significant capital and enjoying more autonomy. They also work alongside regulatory bodies like IN-SPACe to ensure accountability. Additionally, private companies are actively engaging the public in detailed discussions about space and satellite technologies.
This support will undoubtedly foster increased participation, not only among startups but also among investors, stakeholders, and encourage progressive collaborations. Nekkanti, Penamakuru, Surapureddy, and Abhay Egoor are all optimistic about the future of the Indian space industry. They believe that private startups will play a crucial role in establishing a strong and sustainable ecosystem for the sector.
Partnerships have played a vital role in diversifying the space asset portfolios of private players. Dhruva Space has forged alliances with other significant players in the space industry, including Skyroot Aerospace, a launch vehicle provider based in Hyderabad, Sidus Space from Florida, Blacksky based in Virginia, Kinéis, a satellite operator and global connectivity provider based in France, and Comat, a strategic equipment supplier also from France, among others. These partnerships have been instrumental in expanding Dhruva Space’s network and capabilities in the space sector.
A futuristic trajectory
Dhruva Space is determined to lead the privatization of India’s space industry and has made significant progress toward this goal. In 2020, the company was honored with the prestigious National Startup Award by the Government of India, recognizing its exceptional contributions to the satellite technology sector.
The Startup India scheme has played a crucial role in Dhruva Space’s success. The company is proud to be the first recipient of the National Startup India Award. This initiative has fostered a vibrant start-up ecosystem in India, now the world’s third-largest with over 50,000 startups.
The National Startup Award received in 2020 has catalyzed Dhruva Space’s global expansion. The company has established fruitful partnerships with stakeholders in various countries, including the UAE, Finland, USA, and Singapore. These interactions, facilitated by the Government of India, have enabled Dhruva Space to showcase its products to a wider audience.
Along with the 2020 National Startup Award, the company has been awarded the 2022 Pandit Deendayal Upadhyaya Telecom Skill Excellence Award for its work in Satellite Communications. It has also been honored with the 2022 ‘Business’ Innovation for India Award by the Marico Innovation Foundation, and also received the ‘Best Startup – Silver’ accolade at the 2022 Telangana State Industry Awards.
Dhruva Space also recently graduated from the globally-reputed Creative Destruction Lab, a non-profit organization delivering objectives-based programmes for seed-stage, scalable sci-tech companies, showcasing the company is indeed serious about taking indigenously-developed Indian Space-tech products and services to the global market.
With approximately 60 full-time employees, including the four co-founders and consultants, Dhruva Space is committed to ensure its position as a prominent player in India’s thriving private space-tech ecosystem.
Space technologies hold immense significance as they contribute to numerous technologies used in our daily lives on Earth. For instance, memory foam mattresses and Lasik eye surgery technology were initially developed for space use. Additionally, air purifiers, essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, originated from space exploration endeavors.
Nekkanti adds, “The demand for satellite-enabled services is increasing worldwide, and satellite technology has the potential to impact people’s lives significantly. Satellites are vital for enabling farmers to understand crop yield patterns, assisting traders in making informed investment decisions, and providing valuable insights to national security agencies. Furthermore, the recent announcement of the Indian Space Policy 2023 has given clarity to the future of the private Space sector of India.”
As the CTO of Dhruva Space, Abhay Egoor emphasizes the importance of having a diverse and complementary team to work in the Space industry. “The type of team you have is the biggest and most important factor in overcoming most challenges,” he notes. “These teammates will be with you through the whole execution phase of the idea.”
Egoor acknowledges the diverse skill sets required for satellite development. Penamakuru brings a software background, Surapureddy holds an MBA, Nekkanti has expertise in Space, and Egoor himself has an Electronics Engineering background.
Dhruva Space ensures that its team reflects its full-stack vision, encompassing legal, regulatory, finance, business development, PR and marketing, and supply chain expertises. Egoor emphasizes the significance of non-technical skills like marketing, commercialization, and managing regulatory and legal affairs. He warns that lacking these skills in the core team can lead to problems.
Looking ahead, Dhruva Space has ambitious plans for growth. The company is heavily investing in research and development, focusing on next-generation satellite systems and technologies. With three launches under their belt and an AIT facility in the works, the company has more launches slated featuring the company’s nanosatellites from Indian soil, all with the vision to create faster, smarter, and more modular Space solutions.