Q: Could you elaborate on Team Avishkar Hyperloop and how GalaxEye was founded?
A: We came out of Team Avishkar Hyperloop, at IIT Madras. When I started my master’s in Aerospace Engineering at IIT Madras in 2017, I got to know about this opportunity at SpaceX, where Elon Musk was organizing this competition called “Hyperloop Contest”.
I got an opportunity to form a team and we worked for a couple of years. We built the hyperloop pod, which can go from one place to another inside a vacuum tunnel at a very high speed. So that was the concept, and a lot of students gathered together and we were able to do well in the competition. In fact, we were the only Asian team to participate, reach the finals, and finish in the Top 10. A few of us from the Hyperloop team were really excited about space technologies in general. When we were at the SpaceX facility, we met a lot of folks – SpaceX employees as well as Elon Musk.
That sparked our interest, that possibly we could innovate in space tech as well. We are from different backgrounds – aerospace, engineering design, and metallurgy. We came together and figured out a sweet spot: building satellites. Satellites were our interest because they include hardware, as well as output data, which is useful for analytics. And that’s how our journey started – by figuring out the purpose of our satellites and how we will differentiate ourselves.
Q: Having a mentor is important in a niche field like Space Tech. Would you like to talk about your mentors or anyone in particular who has helped you in your journey so far?
A: We are working on all space electronics, and there are multiple categories of electronics involved. If I have to make something work right now, on the table, I can pretty much use any electronics. When it has to work on a drone or has to have repeatability, then I have to use industrial electronics. If it’s on an aircraft, I’ll have to use military-grade electronics, and then space-grade.
So it is very important for us to understand the space nature of electronics. That’s why we have mentors broadly divided into two categories – people who have an aerospace background and people who have an electronics background. Our mentors from the aerospace background tell us about what kind of environments the electronics will be exposed to, and people from electronics tell us how to make the sensor and the satellite function.
So, Professor Satya who is from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at IIT Madras helps us with the aerospace engineering side. And then there are a few senior advisors whom I can’t name as of now, but they are from the electronics side and have been associated with a few reputed government organizations before.
Q: Are there any particular open-source resources that you had used and like to mention?
A: We referred to very less open-source materials, but there are few good repositories from ISRO and NASA that we can find online. For most things, we really have to get proprietary information. But there are some very good books written in the past by scientists that we use consistently to build upon our hypotheses and experiment further.
Q: What is the key technology you have implemented? Could you elaborate on Drishti sensors and how your team came up with them?
A: There is a bigger machine in place – the satellite – which is where the computing also happens. But the Drishti sensors are a very, very key technology and also the USP of GalaxEye. There are multiple sensors today that are used on an individual basis. For example, you can use cameras, thermal sensors, radiometers, or radars on a satellite. Drishti sensors are basically a hybrid version of multiple sensors that enable data fusion to give comprehensive data that anyone would want from a satellite. We have also filed for a patent for the Drishti sensor.
“The Drishti sensor enables multi-sensor fusion”
Initially, we talked to a lot of people and understood their requirements. We figured out there is a need for such kind of data, and the sensor that we’ve developed perfectly suits those kinds of needs. The sensors themselves are not commercially available. They will be deployed on our satellites only. What we will be making commercially available is the dataset obtained.
Q: What sectors in the market will the data help?
A: We’re combining multiple datasets together. As I said, data fusion can solve many problems in the industry. So it can serve insurance, agriculture, utilities, defense, and many other sectors. Given the comprehensive nature of our dataset, it can serve almost every sector that uses satellite imagery as a data source.
Q: Are there any customer-related challenges that you have identified?
A: I think it’s the volume of the data that will be transferred from one point to another that’s going to be one of the challenging aspects – how the data comes to the station and is then disseminated to the user. We’re solving that challenge by building a dashboard where users can come to a website. They’ll be able to see a map and they can draw a rectangular cross-section or some sort of polygons. And we will deliver the data for that particular area.
Q: Are there any competitors that you are dealing with? What would you say makes GalaxEye stand out?
A: There are few global players who are already there, but will compete with them by advancing our technology. There are people who are doing satellite imagery using single sensor-based imaging. Where we come in is the multi-sensor fusion. That’s where we differentiate ourselves.
“GalaxEye’s biggest strength is our team”
We’ve done Avishkar Hyperloop in the past and we have some sort of know-how of how deep tech projects really move ahead. Secondly, we are lucky to have mentors who have been working in this field. So it’s the entire team of founders, employees, and mentors that’s our biggest strength.
Apart from that, it’s also the differentiation that we bring to the table that’s very important for the customers. Generally, when you enter space tech, you don’t always think about the customer. You only think about making the technology feasible. But our focus has been to serve the customer from day one. I think our customer-centric approach and our team capacity are our advantages.
Q: What future plans do you have for your firm?
A: Our mission is to launch a constellation of satellites working in tandem to provide imagery. We will have a group of such satellites monitoring the Earth on daily basis. That’s where we will be heading, and that is the ultimate goal. However, the short-term goal is to launch our first satellite in some time, probably by the end of next year. We would definitely have to collaborate with one of the launch providers for this. We are in active talks with a lot of people, but we would prefer to launch with ISRO.
Q: What are the future plans for your firm in terms of hiring and investments?
A: We have been funded once in the past. Last year, we raised one round of funding. As of now, we actively engage with investors, but funding plans are still not very open. To talk about hiring, in SaaS and many other domains of startups, it’s very easy to find people and talent. In our case, we need some hands-on experience – either electronics or very deep knowledge of the fundamentals of electronics or engineering. We are on a constant lookout. We always look out for good talent to join us.
We need people to design components, test components, and then we need people to communicate and make the fabrication happen as well. We’re currently working on a smaller scale but we are constantly expanding. Anyone and everyone who has an interest in working in space-tech and has got good fundamentals of electronics – can always reach out to us.
“Optoelectronics, RF, antenna, and FPGAs – these are the four keywords we look for”
Generally we look out for people who have some sort of communications experience, someone who has worked on transmit/ receive modules, antenna design, sensor design, or the RF side of electronics. We have observed that people coming fresh out of college are actually more effective than people who are coming from the industry, maybe because there was no private satellite industry earlier. Many of our team members are also freshers. So we generally look for people who can learn fast and unlearn fast, and then implement.
Q: How do you think students interested in space technology at an undergraduate level should proceed?
A: I think the Indian government and ISRO have been taking steps towards that. There is a student satellite program by ISRO where they have asked students to submit proposals. Students will actually build CubeSats using ISRO’s know-how and they can put them up on the PSLV rocket and send them into space. At the same time, universities like IIT Madras are coming up with interdisciplinary programs, where there will be a space-based course. So there are efforts being made.
“Students can start with drones and communication, and then if interested they can move forward to taking specialized subjects during the PG”
Also, to understand space and other things, it is very important to understand the physics behind it. I think drones are a good way to enter this domain. Students can start by working on quadcopters. They can find such kits on multiple e-commerce websites. So that should be a good start.