40UNDER 40

The Satellite Champions Of Dhruva Space

Prev Rank: NA

Sanjay Nekkanti, Krishna Teja Penamakuru, Abhay Egoor, Chaitanya Dora Surapureddy, 

Co-founders, Dhruva Space, Dhruva Space
age: 33, 33, 33, 32
40 under 40 Logo
When three students of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Goa — Krishna Teja Penamakuru, Abhay Egoor and Chaitanya Dora — collaborated for the first time in 2008 to build a satellite as a part of a college project, none of them had any idea that it would be the beginning of a long journey.
Another high school friend of theirs, Sanjay Nekkanti, equally passionate about space, was trying his hands at satellite making at the SRM Institute, Chennai at the same time in a project supported by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
For a brief moment they parted ways to pursue higher studies and careers, but came together again in 2012 to set up Dhruva Space, an end-to-end space engineering solution company.
Dhruva Space offers satellite plat-forms, launch solutions, and ground services. While launch solutions include rapid satellite deployers for multiple platform sizes from launch vehicle providers, ground services comprise networks for continuous access and tracking and control of space assets from anywhere on the planet. Satellite platforms, on the other hand, are modular platforms weighing from 1 kg to up to 300 kg, which accommodate commercial, defence, and scientific missions in low Earth orbit and beyond.
The company, which counts government agencies, enterprise customers and academic and research institutions, among its clients, recently bagged a ₹21-crore supply order to develop high-efficiency space grade solar panels.
CEO Nekkanti, chief operating officer Penamakuru, chief technology officer Egoor, and chief financial officer Dora agree that their early experience in satellite making as students helped them discern the opportunity in the space sector. “Abhay, Chaitanya and I did our high school together. Chaitanya, Abhay, and Krishna were together at BITS Pilani, Goa. I studied at SRM institute in Chennai. So, we started building satellites when we were still in college,” says Nekkanti. “During the course of building the first satellite (in 2008), we realized that building a satellite in India was far more economical compared with western markets,” he adds.
The company, which has raised around ₹26.5 crore till date, is looking to raise another $25 million in the next 18 months to set up its own manufacturing unit. It is scouting for acquisitions as well. “We do not work on the payload. We work only on the Satellite Bus,” says Penamakuru. “Typically, satellite applications are divided into three categories — earth observation, communication, and Space sciences,” he adds.
But is there a market for indigenous space solutions, especially since the industry is completely dominated by space agencies and defence and research organisations? There is, says Nekkanti, since ISRO has been nurturing an ecosystem of small and medium enterprises in the segment for sometime now.
“But, most of these companies are component makers. They do not build the full rocket or the full spacecraft. They also do not offer services such as commanding and controlling satellites till now. Our vision is to lead the privatisation of the Indian satellite industry,” he adds.
With 40,000–60,000 satellites set to be launched in the next decade and a half (compared to only 5,000 launched between 1970 and 2000), the company is eyeing a global opportunity. It wants to focus on the domestic market as well.
“We are one of the few private companies in the country that has the capability to build a full solar panel for space applications for micro satellites and beyond,” says Egoor.
Satellites use solar energy in orbit, and the technology used in space solar cells is different from terrestrial solar cells. “Built to increase efficiency and withstand the radiation of outer space, the cells are mounted on a mechanical structure, which is light, but sturdy enough to withstand the launch load. This makes the design of the solar panels very challenging and special,” adds Egoor.
Dhruva Space is also looking to tap into the emerging trend of companies launching small satellites, especially in the U.S. “They are looking at our deployers to deploy someone else’s satellite in orbit,” explains Nekkanti. The company is in talks with customers in Africa and Argentina as well. “Almost 90 countries in the world have not launched anything in space till date. A number of those countries are adopting small satellites to launch their first national space programme,” he adds.
The current orders are expected to increase the company’s turnover from ₹50 lakh currently to ₹25 crore by FY23. According to Dora, it is a conservative estimate. “That’s because we are also working on some other projects that are in the pipeline.”
“In FY24, we would like to raise our turnover to ₹75-100 crore. That is when we are looking to start our own production,” adds Dora. The proceeds from the next round of fundraising will be used to set up an assembly integration and testing facility in India, and to expand in the U.S. and U.A.E.