How did the idea of a start-up, Astrome, come about?
Astrome is founded by two serial entrepreneurs and researchers, namely, Dr. Prasad H.L. Bhat and I, Dr. Neha Satak. Our idea was simple. We wanted to use space as the means to solve problems on Earth, specifically in fast-developing nations such as India. We explored a number of problems that could be solved using space. One such problem that we were exploring was internet delivery from space. We knew that satellite based internet is the quickest means of reaching the remotest locations, but what is more amazing is that we found that satellite based internet works out to be significantly less expensive to set up the infrastructure, than ground-based fibre and tower internet delivery mechanism. This realisation immediately concretised our plans. The internet is the single most important platform that can help deliver good quality education, health care and governance to the remotest parts of our country. The internet is also the means through which rural and urban economies can truly unite. Through the growth of e-commerce in the country and the availability of internet everywhere, entrepreneurs will be created not only in urban India, but also in rural India. Our internet solution from space will not only solve connectivity problems for India, but also most developing countries worldwide. We have received seed investments from Angels and the Indian Institute of Science.
Do tell us about your patented MM wave technology?
The current telecommunication infrastructure has not penetrated deep enough to provide internet service to all. This penetration will take a considerable amount of time and money if done by conventional methods. Instead, we propose a space route that will need less investment and less time to reach all. A number of companies globally are aspiring to launch constellations of satellites around the Earth to provide internet connectivity to all. What they lack are high bandwidth transponders as currently, only speeds of 8Gbps are possible per transponder. For each transponder that is launched in space, anywhere between $3 million to $30 million is spent to manufacture and launch the satellite that carries it. Therefore, more the speeds you can get per transponder, cheaper is the per Gbps connectivity from space. Using our patented millimeter wave technology, we are developing space transponders that will deliver 100Gbps capacity that is 12 times the capacity of the existing transponders in the market.
How does Astrome differ from One Web, Space X, and Boeing, which also have plans to launch a constellation of satellites in low earth orbit for the purpose of providing internet connectivity to remote areas?
We differ from them in several ways. First of all, the number of satellites SpaceX, Boeing and One Web are planning to launch are in thousands, whereas we plan to launch only 150 satellites. They plan to cover the whole globe while we plan to cover the developing countries’ belt which includes South-Asia, South-east Asia, Australia, Africa, South America, parts of North America and Arab countries. The internet user growth is mostly concentrated in this belt, and moreover, it is the developing countries that lack the ground infrastructure to provide internet connectivity to all.
This was about the difference between their plan and our plan, but there is a more fundamental thing that differentiates us from them. We are a startup which is banking on developing cutting-edge technology to stay ahead in the game. We are developing internet transponder technology that will provide 12 times more capacity to each of our microsatellites as compared to One Web. Boeing and SpaceX have not disclosed the capacity of their proposed satellites, therefore, we cannot compare with them. However, considering the frequency spectrum that they plan to use, we can confidently say that our transponders will have much higher capacity than theirs.
What I gather is that while the big companies are concentrating on business innovation, Astrome is focused on technology? Am I right? Please elaborate.
Yes, you’re right. We are taking this stage-wise. We are extremely focused on developing our millimeter wave technology now and plan to test it soon.
How do you plan to go about raising funds as Astrome is unlike others, a space tech company?
We are currently raising more funds. Our plan is to raise money in stages and have tangible monetisable outputs at the end of each stage.
Astrome has been around for just two years, when do you think your maiden products would be ready?
Our first technology demonstrator will be ready in June 2017. From there, we will do our first space test in 2018.
Do tell us about your background and your core team members?
We are two founders, eight engineers (apart from founders), and 10 advisors as of today. Our core team members have Masters degrees in relevant areas, and 3-15 years of industry experience. We have a diverse set of advisors from industry and academia. Regarding the two founders, I am from Rajasthan, and Prasad is from Karnataka.