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How Infinite Orbits Got A Deal To Debut Its Satellite Tech With SpaceX


Growing up, Akshay Gulati had a keen interest in space and idolised American astronomer Carl Sagan.

He had big dreams to explore unknown frontiers, and is now the co-founder and CEO of Infinite Orbits, which offers in-space services.

When he was a mechanical engineering undergraduate at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, he ran a space club for fellow students. Later on when he was doing his Masters at the same institute, his professor tasked him to run a space lab, where he ran interesting research projects in his spare time. 

akshay gulati
Akshay working at a lab in IIT / Image Credit: Akshay Gulati

Akshay went on to work with the Indian national space agency but he soon realised that in order to have the most freedom to experiment and express his ideas, he needed to pursue the entrepreneurial route.

He wanted to pursue the commercial space sector, developing practical applications for space use cases, instead of pursuing overly theoretical research projects. 

At a 2016 conference in the United States, he met his co-founder through a mutual acquaintance, who is an ex-NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientist.

The two hit it off and started brainstorming ideas together for a NASA challenge in Columbia University. One thing led to another, and they soon started conjuring up plans to move to Singapore to develop their business.

S’pore As The Hub For Space Technology In SEA

Akshay reasoned that the move here was due to the availability of funding and clientele base, as well as ease of regulation.

With the creation of the Office for The Space and Technology Industry (OSTIn) in 2003, the space industry has been growing steadily. Although Singapore is dubbed a ‘little red dot’, it accounts for seven per cent of the global share of space investment.

Instead of channeling billions of dollars into a state-owned space agency like regional and global space players, Singapore has been an encouraging observer that provides a platform for venture capitals, startups, businesses, universities, and government agencies to set up operations and nurture the innovation ecosystem.

This is why many space startups are mushrooming in Singapore, especially those with a focus in the satellite domain. To date, there are more than 30 firms and 1,000 people working in the space industry. 

Everything is so straightforward and well-regulated here. It has also been easy to recruit talent, both local and foreign talent that can help us grow.

When it comes to satellite technology, more clients are concentrated in Singapore. Other places like Hong Kong and Indonesia have liberalised telecommunication satellite companies as well (but) in India, where I came from, all telecom satellites are owned by the national space agency.

– Akshay Gulati, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Orbits

Since setting up here, Infinite Orbits has received a lot of support from the Infocomm Media Development Authority, the Economic Development Board (EDB), and JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.

Infinite Orbits lab
Infinite Orbits lab / Image Credit: Infinite Orbits

The team has also expanded to the European market, setting up bases in both the United Kingdom and France, after securing funding from the European Space Agency and Innovate UK.

Funding Challenges Is Just The Tip Of An Iceberg

Space startups are notoriously capital intensive. The testing and development of products require massive capital before anything can be launched and revenue can be generated. 

While interested clients will commission deal contracts, the delivery of the technology requires injection of more capital and resources, as well as a long timeline horizon.

To date, Infinite Orbits has received US$1 million in terms of funding and gross revenue, but it is planning to raise more as soon as possible.

They are currently backed by the European Space Agency, EDB, the Stanford Space Rendezvous Lab, angel investors connected to the telecom industry, and established satellite manufacturers in both Canada and Europe. 

Another business challenge that they face is explaining their technology to the market and investors.

Not many people are doing what we are doing, so this is a doubled-edged sword. We don’t have competition, but it is also difficult to explain what exactly we are building, especially when the technology is not ready yet.

– Akshay Gulati, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Orbits

Since it’s hard for them to define products, services and offerings, they inevitably take on an experimental nature. This is why Infinite Orbits has pivoted several times since its inception in 2017.

They Used To Provide Satellite Parking Spots

They seem to have found their niche specialising in developing satellite technologies with a target location at the geostationary (GEO) orbit. It is a high-commercial value orbit as it is where telecom satellites are primarily located.

Previously, the company provided a service reserving spots for satellites to park in the GEO orbit. There are limited slots available in the space, so they built capacity for satellite providers to outsource “parking” at a competitive cost.

Right now, they are mostly focused on developing a new technology: a camera-vision based technology to help satellites and space vehicles navigate autonomously.

infinite orbits spaceborne navigation technolog
Spaceborne navigation technology / Image Credit: Infinite Orbits

This technology comes in a form of plug-and-play software module that can be installed on satellites to automate navigation. The module helps satellites move with more precision, enabling them to move closer or away from targets. For instance, it can detect objects such as space debris and move away from them.

However, situational awareness at the GEO orbit is hard to achieve because it is located so far away from the earth. To put things in perspective, it is more than 35,000 kilometres above the Earth’s equator.

Additionally, their technology can also be used by satellites to do automated in-orbit assembly, which removes the need of a human controller.

If you watch a lot of space movies, one control room needs a lot of manpower and resources to monitor just one astronaut.

There is actually a lot of risk and cost associated with sending a human into space, so we are automating the process and making things more cost-efficient and less risky.

– Akshay Gulati, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Orbits

Democratising The Space Industry

According to Akshay, the biggest issue with space today is the massive capital requirement, which stops startups and organisations from accessing the industry and developing novel products and services. 

This makes the game limited to large companies and governments who might not be as experimental or innovative as startups are. He went on to name bigger industry players with deeper pockets of funding such as Airbus and Lockheed Martins as their biggest competitors.

But this is also where Infinite Orbits come to play — it aims to provide technology and services for smaller space players to outsource their operations and innovate at a lower cost. Their goal is to make the space industry more accessible to more stakeholders.

Although they are a smaller player, they have secured a deal to debut their autonomous navigation technology demo on Elon Musk’s SpaceX mission in the first quarter of next year, which Akshay describes as one of the company’s biggest milestones.

Infinite Orbits has come so far since it first launched, and Akshay is not closing possibilities for future acquisition by bigger companies, should their technology prove to be useful for them. 

We want in-space activity to move from individual missions to a true collaborative in-orbit ecosystem, one that sustains itself and expands on its own.

In the future, our autonomous navigation technology should not be limited to space exploration — we are hoping to do marine exploration as well.

– Akshay Gulati, co-founder and CEO of Infinite Orbits

Featured Image Credit: Infinite Orbits





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