India is a sleeping giant, expert says

Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, right, talks with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, after having signed the Artemis Accords on June 21, 2023.

Bill Ingalls / NASA

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Overview: The sleeping giant

Last week, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a red-carpet visit to the U.S., meeting with top government and corporate leaders. Amid the flurry of partnerships and contracts announced during Modi’s visit, the country also became the 27th to sign the Artemis Accords, the international set of principles around sustainable global cooperation in space.

The White House also announced that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and NASA will work together toward flying the South Asian country’s astronauts to the International Space Station next year. India will also invest in space research missions alongside the U.S.

India’s no slouch when it comes to space, but the announcements come at a notable time: Russia is steadily fading away as a space superpower, with the sector increasingly a two-horse geopolitical race between the U.S. and China. Could India fill the Russia-sized void?

Mike Gold, who helped lead the creation of the Artemis Accords three years ago, definitively believes so:

“India will not only fill the void that Russia is leaving, but will far exceed it,” Gold, now Redwire’s chief growth officer, told me. “The capabilities of India to engage, to innovate, to support a more robust [industry], particularly commercial space, is going to far outstrip anything that Russia had ever been able to do.”

Gold described India as “a sleeping giant in the space world that is awakening” – albeit “one that’s been snoring loudly.” Already, the country has “done so much with so little,” he noted.

While India’s space budget has more than doubled over the past decade, its Department of Space – which leads both civil and military missions – has just $1.6 billion allocated for 2023, a fraction of either the NASA or Space Force annual budgets.

On the private side, India ranks as fifth among countries for equity investment in space over the past decade, according to Space Capital – but still represents just 3% of the funds invested globally from 2014 to now.

Gold believes India’s bureaucratic reforms in its space efforts are helping the country move faster in the sector. The nation’s already flown robotic missions to the moon and Mars. But a further push toward growing its commercial market, combined with greater cooperation and investment alongside the U.S., “will be transformative not just for India, but for the U.S. and the commercial space sector as a whole,” he said.

“No one is altering their path – we’re just complementing each other relative to Artemis and the existing plans with India. And both countries will benefit greatly,” Gold said.

Follow along: CNBC will be watching closely this morning as Virgin Galactic attempts its first commercial spaceflight. Check out our live coverage.

What’s up

Industry maneuvers

  • Virgin Galactic raises $300 million and looks to add another $400 million as it develops its next-generation spacecraft to expand its fleet: The space tourism company completed an “at the market” (ATM) raise that it began in August, while simultaneously announcing a subsequent ATM for an additional $400 million. – CNBC
  • Space computing startup Ramon raises $26 million in a round led by Foxconn subsidiary Ingrasys and Abu Dhabi’s Strategic Development Fund. It was joined by investment from Grove Ventures, Deep Insight and UMC Capital. – Ramon.Space
  • Colorado-based startup Agile Space Industries raises $13 million: The round was led by Caruso Ventures and joined by investors including Lockheed Martin Ventures, Greater Colorado Venture Fund, CORI Innovation Fund and Greenline Ventures. Agile plans to use the funds to expand production and development of in-space propulsion thrusters. – Agile
  • Space mission management startup Continuum raises $3 million in a seed round led by Prophetic Capital Partners and joined by Mandala Space Ventures, Explorer1 Fund, Freeflow Ventures and Unlock Venture Partners. The company is working to streamline the tools and technology behind how spacecraft operators manage missions. – Continuum
  • Defense tech company Anduril acquires rocket propulsion startup Adranos for an undisclosed amount. Adranos, founded in 2015, builds solid rocket motors for use on missiles and hypersonic vehicles. – Anduril
  • SES awarded $134 million Space Force contract, to provide communications services to the Pentagon through the GovSat-1 satellite. – SES
  • Startup iRocket wins $1.8 million Space Force contract, to demonstrate a reusable small rocket engine. The contract requires iRocket perform a 120- to 180-seconds-long static fire of its engine. – iRocket
  • Lockheed Martin books launch on Firefly’s Alpha rocket, with the dedicated mission set to support a technology demonstration. A timeline for the launch was not indicated. – Firefly Aerospace
  • Spire selected by wildfire monitoring company OroraTech to build eight satellites for the latter company’s constellation to monitor global temperatures. The spacecraft are scheduled to launch in the middle of next year. Terms of the contract were not disclosed. – Spire

Market movers

Boldly going

On the horizon

  • June 29: Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity flies first commercial launch from New Mexico.
  • June 29: SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon undocks from ISS to return NASA’s CRS-27 mission.
  • July 1: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches ESA’s Euclid telescope from Florida.
  • July 4: Arianespace final Ariane 5 rocket launches the Syracuse 4B and Heinrich Hertz communications satellites from French Guiana.

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