From UAE homes to cities in space: Indian startups pitch floating colonies around Earth

Small businesses put forward ideas for cities that can be built 'just like legos'

by

Nandini Sircar

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FILE PHOTO: The crescent Earth rises above the lunar horizon in this undated NASA handout photograph taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft in lunar orbit during the final lunar landing mission in the Apollo program in 1972. Photo: Reuters
FILE PHOTO: The crescent Earth rises above the lunar horizon in this undated NASA handout photograph taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft in lunar orbit during the final lunar landing mission in the Apollo program in 1972. Photo: Reuters

Published: Thu 16 Nov 2023, 12:47 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Nov 2023, 5:19 PM

Ever thought about living in space?

Space startups from India who aim to build huge habitats floating around our home planet have brought the idea to the UAE under the ambit of The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe).


Inspired by iconic constructions like the Burj Khalifa, and citing a fertile ground for pioneering space technology startups, several Indian businesses pitched their cases on Wednesday in Dubai as part of Elevate Pitching Session organised by the Indian Consulate.

Arun Radhakrishnan, Head- Business Development of Inspecity Space Laboratories Pvt Ltd, said that the possibility of space settlements is not a far cry. His company’s vision is to design a space city in collaboration with the UAE.


"We want to build this city together with all the stakeholders. When you consider building a city there are so many aspects to it. One person has to do the plumbing; someone has to look at the electricity. All these companies here (at the session) are building one part of the city. We want everyone to come together and develop this grand vision of building a city in space,” said Radhakrishnan.

Ideal place for space colony

While the ISS is a small orbital outpost, he explained that the company envisions building a huge city in the low Earth orbit (LEO).

“Back in the 1960-70s there was a concept called the O'Neill cylinder, you would have a giant 27 km long cylinder that is rotating about its axis in space where humans can come and colonise and this is something which has caught recent attention. Mars is too far away and we know Elon Musk wants to colonise Mars and we are looking at the Moon. But LEO is just five minutes away from our planet so why not set up a city in LEO,” he continued.

Radhakrishnan highlighted that the initial point would be to create small orbital outposts.

“As we develop technologies we can link these outposts together to form a big city. Just the way you build Lego. I would say the base foundations can be laid within this decade.”

Satellite tech for agriculture, oil spill detection

Similarly, another startup SkyServe also showcased their goal of making space more accessible for Earthlings.

Founder, Goutam Naik said they developed an Edge computing platform and provide Insights-as-a-service.

He said, “What that means is that there is a lot of failure rate on the data that is recovered (from space, satellites) due to cloud cover. So, the data is discarded. Data footprint is huge, but the insights derived from it are really low. We are a data surplus industry but an inside deficit industry.”

“Our services will connect both satellite operators and the end users of the insights.”

The aim is to use AI models in satellite technology for diverse purposes, such as monitoring crop health in agriculture, detecting oil spills, overseeing pipelines, and supporting sustainability efforts.

Naik highlighted the abundant opportunities in Dubai, particularly in the realm of sustainability, as evidenced by its upcoming hosting of COP28.

“The city boasts various industries such as oil and gas, urban landscape monitoring, and even Dewa's venture into satellite launches. Consequently, the readiness to embrace new technologies is exceptionally high in this dynamic environment,” he Naik.

Democratisation of space

With their proprietary fully reusable launch vehicle technology another company, Etherealx claims to operate at a much lower launch price.

Manu J Nair said, “We are building a medium-lift launch vehicle. This is a momentous task. This will bring democratisation in space launch service systems which is currently a skewed market demographic. Right now, over 80-85 per cent is with Space X in the medium-lift segment. Access to space has to be multi-polarised. That’s what we are bringing.”

“The global launch price average is between $12,500 to $14,000 per kg to put anything into orbit. We will be operating anywhere between 350 dollars per kg to $2,000 and at a 72-hour turnaround time for launch. We’ve achieved full reusability with our Reusable Upper Stage (ReUS), by innovating a versatile rocket engine cycle and proprietary deployment system.”

Enhancing border security, planetary explorations

Another startup, Augsenselab Pvt Ltd, brought a multi-modality sensor payload designed for drones, revolutionizing remote sensing techniques and improving mapping. This innovation has the potential to play a crucial role in border security.

Naveen Chittilapilly, CTO, Augsenselab Pvt Ltd said, “We develop high sensitivity sensor that can revolutionise the way remote sensing is done. We focus on GPR which is a ground- penetrating radar. Our sensors will make it 5X deeper. It is used for utility mapping. The other areas are for border security and patrolling. The tunnels can be detected. We have civilian and defence applications for border security and planetary explorations.”

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