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Bengaluru based space tech startup building high speed space communication for the future

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The story of how you started, and what is your mission strategy?

Nitish Singh, Co-Founder & CEO, Astrogate Labs

The smallsat industry is observing a significant expansion both in terms of the number of satellites and bandwidth requirements which led to a greater need for effective communication solutions. Currently, most space systems rely on radio and microwave networks for interplanetary, inter-satellite, and space-to-ground communication. However, these are plagued with the issues of low bandwidth, high spectrum licensing costs, low data rates. Optical communications may hold the answer, enabling operators to get more data from space to Earth faster and more efficiently. The drive for optical communication is also due to the crowding of traditional radio options in frequencies that have been used for decades for satellite communication.

Astrogate intends to build an entire chain of optical communication systems to tackle the problem of high-speed communication in space. Launched in 2017 by co-founders Nitish Singh and Aditya Kedlaya, Astrogate Labs is a space technology company from Bengaluru, India, building core technologies in optical/laser communication terminals. A revolutionary space tech platform, Astrogate Labs enables satellites/satellites constellation operators to get more data from space to Earth faster. It is equipped to provide optical communication terminals, ground receiver stations, space relay systems, related software systems for data retrieval. Currently, the firm is focussing its efforts on providing a space-to-ground dowlink solution with its “smallsat optical downlink terminal” which can be readily integrated on any small/ nanosatellite platforms and provide up to 1 Gbps downlink. The company further plans to provide space-to-space communication solutions as well.

Any significant milestones in your journey, since inception?
The company has partnered with Momentus, a provider of in-space transportation services for satellites, to launch its first 3U satellite to Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), to be launched in December 2021 on the second Vigoride commercial mission. Astrogate Labs is also incubated at Innovation and Collaboration Centre, Australia under its Venture Catalyst Space Program.

What are your key space tech products and solutions?
Astrogate is providing laser communication terminals that can be readily integrated on small satellites along with small aperture laser comm. ground stations. The solution provides high speed communication with the satellite on an unlicensed band and is inherently secure. Astrogate is further decreasing the cost of provisioning laser communication links for satellites by deploying laser comm. ground stations globally and providing a downlink service.

How are you enabling high-speed communications for small-satellites with your laser communication solutions?
Laser/ optical communication is already ubiquitous in terrestrial fiber communication. The only key difference is, in terrestrial comm, we utilise fiber as the medium in which the laser propagates and for satellites the medium is just atmosphere/free space. This also adds challenges on precisely pointing the laser beam to the satellite (imagine pointing a laser beam to <10 cm target at a distance of over 1000km, and then also account for the fact that the link is dynamic and has to be kept on the target as it sweeps across the sky). This pointing challenge has severely limited laser comm for small satellites. Astrogate has solved this challenge by providing a very precision fine pointing and steering mechanism in a form compatible for smallsat.

Who are your target client segments, in India and overseas markets?
Our current client segments are small satellite missions from the private sector and academia serving application in earth observation, communications.

What significant difference will your technology make in the industry? And the benefits (cost, operationally, etc)?
Astrogate intends to build an entire chain of optical communication systems to tackle the problem of high-speed communication in space. The firm intends to replace the radio-based communication systems that offer low bandwidth, bear high spectrum licensing costs, and provide low data rates with highly secure optical communication systems.

It is also equipped to provide optical communication terminals, ground receiver stations, space relay systems, related software systems for data retrieval as well as a “smallsat optical downlink terminal” which can be readily integrated on any small/nanosatellite platforms and provide up to 1 Gbps downlink.

What are your future plans in terms of implementations and strategic expansion?
The company plans to support the growing satellite downlink needs with a network of optical ground stations and in-space relays using the technologies developed in-house amongst other ambitious projects. It also aims to demonstrate space-to-ground laser communications link from its smallsat optical downlink terminal onboard a 3U nanosatellite. Astrogate has further plans to establish itself in space-to-space laser links with a subsequent mission.

What kind of support/partnerships are you looking for?
We are actively engaging in partnerships to deploy laser comm. Ground-stations globally. Other collaborations that we have currently put up in place is for our first mission to be launched in Dec 2021 which will qualify our terminals for space-to-ground links.

Your views regarding the growth and development of space tech startup space in India.
Earlier this year, the government announced a policy to boost private participation in space activities, providing an opportunity for private companies in satellites, launches, and space-based services. Along with this, the new Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) was formed to assess the need and demand of private players, including educational and research institutions, and explore ways to accommodate these requirements in consultation with ISRO. This opens up new avenues for private players in not just space explorations but in satellites, sub-assemblies, electronic components, materials and other associated domains.

With startups and technology innovators, India can now evolve as a space startup hub for the world. Reportedly, more than 17,000 small satellites will be launched in Low Earth Orbit by 2030. Exciting Indian space-tech startups are emerging in this area.

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