With advances in multiple technologies, satellites have shrunk massively. Today nano satellites and micro satellites weighing just a few Kgs can do the same job that used to be accomplished by 500-1000 Kg satellites. Most companies now prefer to launch constellations consisting of many smaller satellites in LEO orbit rather than launching bulkier satellites in GEO orbits. This trend is likely to continue. In 2022, there is a prediction of 2500+ small satellites to be launched compared to less than 500 today.
However, there is a problem. While satellites have shrunk, the launch capacities have not! They are still sitting at 300 - 400 Kgs payload range. Smaller payloads either end up waiting a long time (sometimes 2-3 years) for rideshare or paying a hefty premium to go up in space. This is effectively a demand and supply mismatch.
One way to solve this problem is to scale down the rocket capacities from 300-400 kg to under 100 Kgs but considering that each rocket is literally hand made and is a manufacturing challenge, building these rockets for smaller payloads would make them very expensive. Hence the need for an alternate technology approach - which is cost effective and repeatable!
Enter Agnikul! They have created the world's first fully 3D printed single piece rocket engine. Their main innovation is in coming up with 3D printable rocket engines which would otherwise have nearly 1000 discrete parts if built using traditional technology. This enables them to have a launch vehicle for smaller satellites at a very cost effective price point. When used in different configurations, they can give a payload capacity of 30 - 100 Kgs without impacting the economics for smaller payloads. This enables satellite companies to order their own rockets for the payloads that they want and when they want. Additionally, the rocket is modular in design and hence with a mobile system that can be launched from anywhere. Agnikul can deliver a fully functional rocket in a month, thereby enabling them to launch anywhere, anytime pretty much on demand!
Aerospace companies have benefitted a lot from 3d printing because this technique reduces the number of parts and manufacturing time significantly. Agnikul has pushed these advantages to a completely different level and reduced their rocket engine to literally be just one fully 3d printed part. This essentially means 50 hours after the print command is given, one can have an entire rocket engine that is ready to be fitted in the launch vehicle, as is. That’s about a 1000 different parts reduced to 1 part with no necessity of assembly or human interference of any kind.
When we first met Srinath and Moin, all this went above our head like true rocket science! However, something drew our attention and intrigued our interest to go and visit their lab in IIT Chennai. Spending time with them in the lab and looking at the engine truly inspired us to look deeper into it. Slowly but surely we became their fans! With some more discussions and deliberations, it convinced us enough to lead the deal. We are super proud to be partnering with them on this super special journey along with other investors in the round – Speciale Invest, Hari Kumar, Artha Ventures, LetsVenture, Globevestor and CIIE.
At pi Ventures, we primarily have been looking at AI powered deep tech so far. Agnikul is our first investment in what we call Beyond Digital space, innovations which bring 10x differentiated business value but need not be built on digital fabric. They could be innovations in material science, space tech, core engineering, bio tech etc. We believe in backing deep tech - be it AI or beyond AI!