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Pixxel’s Shooting Star

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Awais Ahmed, 

Founder and CEO, Pixxel
age: 24
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As a child, Awais Ahmed, 24-year-old founder and CEO of Bangalore-based space-tech start-up Pixxel, wanted to become an astronaut. “I loved everything related to space,” he says. When he joined BITS Pilani, he became part of ‘Team Anant’, the institute’s official student nano-satellite team working with ISRO scientists.
The big break came in May 2016 when Awais Ahmed got an opportunity to join Hyperloop India’s founding team as engineering lead for designing, simulation and manufacturing of the hyperloop pod. He went on to become one of the finalists of the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2017. “That was the turning point. I decided to make something related to space in India for the world instead of making something which others have already made,” he says.
That led to the birth of Pixxel, which is building a constellation of hyperspectral earth imaging satellites and analytical tools to mine insights from that data. In his effort to make India’s first private satellite company, he was joined by his BITS Pilani friend, Kshitij Khandelwal, now CTO at Pixxel.
Two satellites are slated for launch in early months of 2022. It plans to launch six more satellites by early 2023 and a total of 36 in a few years. These low-orbit suit-case size satellites, positioned about 500 kilometers from earth and costing a few crores each, will capture light reflected from earth in far more detail and in much narrower bands than the standard red, green and blue arrays.
“Hyperspectral imagery captures information in 100s of continuous spectral bands and is capable of giving 50 times better information than standard cameras,” says Awais. These satellites can capture data on crops, forest cover, air pollution, pipelines, mountains, rivers, floods and climate change. The data will be sold to governments and private corporations. So far, 50 clients have signed up.
Pixxel has received $8 million from Lightspeed, Stanford Angels, Omnivore VC, Blume Ventures, growX ventures, Inventus Capital, Ryan Johnson (former president at Planet Labs) and others. But going was tough in the take-off phase. The first challenge was to convince investors. “The toughest phase was Covid-19. We had to take loans,” says Awais.
The market potential is huge. The space market is about $400 billion, of which India’s share is 2-3%. The market is expected to grow to $1-2 trillion in a decade. Of the $400 billion, the earth imaging market is $60-70 billion and India’s share is just about 1%. “If we are able to tap a small pie of that opportunity, that will be huge,” says Awais, dreaming of better and bigger space adventures.