India’s first private space launch startup Skyroot succeeds with upper-stage engine fire test

The private space launch industry has expanded significantly since the debut of SpaceX, but some markets, like India, are just now getting the regulatory support to clear the way for private players to participate. Now that those barriers are coming down, however, private launch startup Skyroot is leaping ahead on its way to becoming the first private space launch vehicle maker in the country, making significant technical progress with a new, successful upper-stage engine burn test.

Skyroot was founded two years ago by a team that includes rocket engineers who previously worked at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), including CEO and co-founder Pawan Kumar Chandana. The startup has raised $4.3 million to date, including from space and defence contractor Solar Industries, and it’s currently going through the funding process again in hopes of securing another $15 million by 2021.

On the technical side, Skyroot is currently focused on developing its very first launch vehicle, the “Vikram-I,” which is in the process of being manufactured and is on track for its first launch sometime around December 2021. This successful test fire of the upper-stage engine, which is nicknamed “Raman” after Indian physicist and Nobel prize winner C.V. Raman, is an important step in validating this key component, which will handle the final insertion of any payload satellites into their target orbit once Vikram-I is operational.

This is also a key step for Skyroot’s overall rocket building technology, as it represents full qualification of its 3D-printed propellant injector, which the company says reduces the mass of the engine by 50%, and drops the components required in its construction, as well as its lead time for manufacturing, by 80%.

Next up for Skyroot are test fires of two full stages of its rocket under development, to take place over the course of the next six months. The company is also concurrently already at work on Vikram-2 and Vikram-3, next-generation launch vehicles that are set to follow in terms of availability sometime around 2022-2023, and offer cost-competitiveness with existing, larger rideshare rockets already available form private companies, including SpaceX.