If we read about road snarls and collisions from Google Maps to make our journeys safer and easier, have we ever thought about outer space and the debris faced by satellites and rockets? With the launch of the space ship SpaceX by Elon Musk recently, this problem could become more common as space travel becomes a sport for the rich. The demand for specific space debris tracking will be worth $2.9 billion by the end of 2022, according to an estimate.
Digantara Science and Technologies (DRT)’ groundbreaking concept records and analyses space debris in Low Earth orbits with more than 10,000 pieces of debris in space (LEOs). The satellite project hopes to ensure the sustainability of long-term spaceflight. Musk will be pleased with that, and satellite companies have a solution at hand with DRT’s attention on the global space debris tracking and removal market.
The initial idea
It all started in 2018 when a student satellite team was initiated by Anirudh (21). The emphasis was on designing and constructing nanosatellites for the Student Satellite Project of ISRO. Anirudh, who was a bachelor in technology with a major in cybersecurity in his third year, was joined by Rahul Rawat (20), who also had a bachelor’s degree in technology (computer science engineering with IoT as a major). Rahul and Anirudh co-founded DRT at the end of 2018 to solve unique problems with their experience in space technologies. The Uttarakhand-based start-up developed an Orbit Space Debris Detector using LIDAR (light detection and range) technology that detects and maps any space debris smaller than 5 cm in size.
Digantara: The Eye in the sky
Digantara Science and Developments Pvt Ltd is an Indian company that focuses mainly on a safe space ecosystem and designs an in-situ space debris detector that focuses on mapping and inspection services for space debris, collision avoidance, and determination of orbit. Digantara now has over eight international MoUs and a sophisticated network of local collaborators, intending to pioneer an environment for the design and development of small satellites in India. The nanosatellite subsystems of the organization are in the prototyping, evaluation, or assembly process. Team DRT has also been selected by the IAF committee among the best eight startups in the world and will pitch their proposals at the 2019 International Astronautical Congress to be held in Washington DC from 21-25 October.
DRT: A jump to the room for progress
If they name it, the team’s in-orbit proprietary space debris detector blends hardware with a software solution. The hardware has a laser module that can detect objects between 1 cm and 20 cm in height, connected to a nanosatellite that can travel into orbit. To forecast the future trajectory of the target, the data is relayed to Earth and analyzed. Anirudh Sharma, 22, co-founder and CEO of Digantara, says: “That’s where the software stack comes in… we build a visualization model of all the objects we have tracked and form a catalog.” Digantara, a 2019 IAF participant, was invited to the IAC2019 general assembly and, under the mentorship of MSME-IISc (Governor of India) and Dr. TGK Murthy, Digantara was mentioned at the IAF Startup Pitch Session at IAC 2019 among the top eight firms.Digantara Research and Technologies was chosen among the top eight startups in the world by the International Astronautical Federation Committee.
SID supplied Digantara with 25 lakh in grant money as part of the incubation scheme, while another 25 lakh came from the budget. The team is now working on a Q4FY21 slated demo mission. It would entail sending a nanosatellite, complete with the tracking unit in orbit, into a region of space where debris, around 10 cm in scale, has already been monitored and reported by ground-based systems. In the second quarter of 2019, the space-tech startup successfully produced revenue worth Rs 6 lakh. A relationship that the start-up recently struck with Telespazio shows that Digantara’s work is on track. The half-a-century-old spaceflight services firm, headquartered in Italy, is designing tools for satellite operators to provide service operations. They wanted data from the SSA and reached out to Digantara. “Before you even launch your product, it is important to have an early adopter like Telespazio,” says Sharma. “It informs us that the brand is on track and also allows us to tailor our brand to what the market needs.”
The satellite technology start-up aims to provide a solution to the demands of the Global Cubesat industry in the space and Earth observation and traffic monitoring segment. DRT is hoping to market its Orbit Space Debris Detectors for real-time proximity warnings to satellite providers. It will also build and produce satellite systems and custom avionics for clients worldwide in the future.
With the Indian government opening up private firms to the space market, there are lots of prospects for Digantara. Andres Martinez, Director of Market Growth, Commercial Space at Telespazio, says, “India is currently shifting its focus to commercial space and this can present new opportunities not only for Digantara but also for investors around the world.”