An Indian start up operating out of Bengaluru with the brand name Pixxel, promises 24-hour global coverage with hyperspectral imaging. They want to deploy constellation of 30 small satellites for this purpose. The startup company has been founded by two young graduates from BITS Pilani. Their first satellite is slated to be launched through PSLV C51 in second half of February 2021.
PSLV-C51, which is the 53rd mission of PSLV, will launch Amazonia-1 of Brazil as primary satellite and 20 Co-passenger satellites from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) SHAR, Sriharikota. The launch is tentatively scheduled at 1023 Hrs IST on February 28, 2021, subject to weather conditions.
PSLV-C51/Amazonia-1 is the first dedicated commercial mission of NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a Government of India company under Department of Space. NSIL is undertaking this mission under a commercial arrangement with Spaceflight Inc. USA.
The 20 co-passenger satellites include one from ISRO (INS-2TD), four from IN-SPACe (three UNITYsats from consortium of three Indian academic institutes and One Satish Dhawan Sat from Space Kidz India) and 15 from NSIL.
Within days of Pixxel entering into a formal collaboration with NewSpace India Limited, ISRO announced that Pixxel’s first satellite Anand will be launched in its PSLV-C51.
On the launch of communication satellite ‘CMS-01’ onboard PSLV-C50 on 17 December 2020 from Sriharikota, ISRO Chairman K Sivan had announced that the upcoming PSLV-C51 mission will be fruition of the space reforms recently introduced in the country.”
Sivan, who was addressing scientists from the Mission Control Centre after the successful launch of communication satellite ”CMS-01”, said: “The first satellite ‘ANAND’ from a start-up called Pixxel India, is going to be launched.”
Doubt rose how could Pixxel, a startup, build their satellite and payload so fast without even having previous experience. A research of news reports do not throw up any photograph of their satellite building facility.
Newsroom24x7 did a research and found out that Pixxel Space Technologies, Inc. is registered with the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission and was incorporated in 2019 and registered on 22 July 2020. It is understood that all its data downloading and dissemination facilities are in USA or some other country but not in India.
Pixxel Space Technologies Inc is founded by Naseem Alduri Awais Ahmed and Khandelwal Kshitij Gokul. Both of them are also founders of Syzygy Space Technologies Pvt Ltd, founded on 27 March 2019 and registered in Bangalore as subsidiary of a “Foreign Company” with a paid up capital of Rs 10,000.
From available information, it appears there is an undisclosed US Company behind Sygyzy Space Technologies.
It is learnt that Pixxel, USA filed with the US Government on 26 June 2020 for clearance for data transmission in SBand for their hyperspectral imaging Cubesat. It means that they will receive their data only in USA and not in India.
Questions are being raised in knowledgeable circles and it is being alleged that PIXXEL is a front of an undisclosed US Company, masquerading as Indian start up with the romantic story of a 22 year old greenhorn CEO. The foreign company angle raises serious doubts and there is total lack of transparency with regard to data reception and its dissemination, especially whether or not India will have full control in this matter. Since it is being pointed out that the start up is designed to avail the launch by PSLV at throw away cost, available for Indian start ups, there is need for investigation to find out whether the Pixxel projcet is designed to save launch cost taking advantage of ISRO’s concession for start ups.
Space Commission clearance was sought for launch of 1st PIXXEL satellite at throwaway price with concession ( Rs. 5 lakh per launch as per rumour) along with Rs. 1 lakh as testing charge. The satellite is a 1ftx1ftx1ft size. So we expect a mass of around 10 kg. With typical cost of launch of min. Rs 21 lakh per kg , the cost of launch will be around Rs. 2 cr minimum.
It is learnt that Member Finance Department of Space (DoS) Sanjeev Kumar, IAS, placed on record his objection as PIXXEL is a foreign company. Now the proposal for launch of satellite is said to have been passed for Sygyzy Space Technologies without mentioning that it is a subsidiary of a foreign company.
Charges are flying, some ISRO insiders have alleged that those at the helm of India’s apex space agency are hand in glove with a foreign company to hoodwink the Indian Government. They are wondering is this another Antrix-Devas like scam.
Postscript: “Expansion in the United States is a priority,” …. “A lot of our agriculture and oil and gas customers are based there.” – Pixxel CEO Awais Ahmed to SpaceNews in August 2020 (check hyperlink for SpaceNews report on Pixxel, it’s American dream and the projection that Pixxel is an Indian startup).