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After six-month delay, start-up targets satellite launch in October

The earth observation satellite developed by the Indian start-up Pixxel will target an October launch with Indian Space Research Organisation mission, a company official said on Sunday. The satellite was to be launched aboard the PSLV-C51 mission in February this year but the company had to back out due to a last minute glitch in the software.

“There was a problem with GPS acquisition and logging in the satellite which we were able to resolve in a couple of days. But we had missed the window to ship the satellite to ISRO launch site. The satellite is completely ready and we used the time to do another round of testing. We were waiting for the next opportunity that ISRO mission would go to the orbit we need. We will be launching the satellite in October,” said Awais Ahmed, founder and CEO of the company (incorporated as Sygyzy).

The work on the second satellite, in a planned constellation of 36, is also 60% complete and is likely to be launched in December. “We have been working on two more satellites in parallel; they are 30% complete and will be launched next year,” said Ahmed.

The company aims to complete the constellation of hyperspectral satellites by 2023.

This would be first satellite by an Indian start-up; barring the satellite of the non-profit SpaceKidz India that was launched as per a non-commercial agreement by ISRO on PSLV C51 mission in February. The PSLV C51 mission carried on board a three-satellite system developed by an industry consortium and SindhuNetra by DRDO for monitoring the Indian Ocean Region.

Pixxel is designing the world’s highest resolution hyperspectral imaging satellites that can provide 10 to 50 times more detailed information. “A normal phone camera works in the visible RBG range, whereas something like a night goggle works in the infrared range. A hyperspectral image can capture data in both visible and infrared spectrum thereby providing great details,” said Ahmed. Explaining it further, he said, “If we take agriculture for example, our satellite will be able to provide granular data on not just the health of soil but the nutrients present in it. It will be able to identify the crop. It will be able to tell whether the crop has been under-irrigated or over-irrigated from soil moisture data.”

After a break of over four months due to the second wave of the pandemic, ISRO is targeting a launch next month of its own earth observation satellite GISAT 1 (also known as EOS-3 as per the new nomenclature). The satellite launch was postponed last year after a technical glitch and then later because of the ongoing pandemic.

Ahmed said that the opening up of the space sector last year was a great help for start-ups like his. Pixxel had initially planned launches with the Russian space agency and had to get the testing done in Netherlands.

“Testing a satellite in another country is expensive and time consuming. Once the space sector was opened up in the country, we wanted to go with ISRO for the launch. What was better, we were able to use the ISRO satellite testing facility in Bangalore. This was the first time that their testing facility was opened up for a commercial satellite. Not only did we get the facility, which would have been expensive to set up. We also got the expertise of scientists who have been testing all ISRO satellites,” said Ahmed. Hindustan Times

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