"We have realised the engine for the upper stage or third stage and work is on for the first and second stage engines of the rocket. We hope to have the engines in seven months' time. Depending on how the Covid-19 lockdown progresses, we expect the rocket to be ready by later part of 2022," Co-founder and CEO Srinath Ravichandran told IANS.
Agnikul, he said, is developing a three-stage (three engine) rocket, powered by kerosene or semi-cryogenic fuel with a carrying capacity of 100 kg to low earth orbit.
The rocket height will be 18 metres and it would weigh about 13 ton at liftoff.
According to Ravichandran, the company will buy commercially-available navigation systems and modify them to its needs.
The company, which has 50 employees, is currently working out of the National Centre for Combustion Research and Development located at Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.
Ravichandran said that Agnikul has raised about Rs 26 crore till date from various investors and the promoters have also put in their own funds.
Agreeing that the money in rocket launch services is very low compared to that in satellite application service and ground equipment, Ravichandran said: "The estimated market for small satellite launches is about $ 2-2.5 million per year. This market will grow when there are rockets available for putting into orbit small satellites."
Presently, small satellites are carried as piggyback luggage by bigger rockets. Thus, the waiting time for small satellite makers to put their satellites into orbit is very long.
"But if there are rockets available to launch small satellites, then the market for such satellites and also for small rockets will increase," Ravichandran said.
While small rocket players may face competition from agencies having bigger rockets in terms of pricing, Ravichandran said the satellite players will have to look at the opportunity cost of waiting for the space in a bigger rocket whereas it may be not be so with players like Agnikul.
Currently the US-based Rocket Lab is the only player in the segment that Agnikul is targeting.
"By 2022, more number of such small rockets are expected to come into the satellite launch vehicle market," Ravichandran said.
As regards the rocket ports, Agnikul will be looking at using the existing rocket port at Sriharikota belonging to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) or the one that is coming up at Kulasekarapattinam in Tamil Nadu.
Happy at the Indian government's decision to open up the space sector for private players Ravichandran said the proposed Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) should have technical experts so that valid proposals are taken forward as well as marketing people who understand business.
According to the Indian government, IN-SPACe will provide a level playing field for private companies to use Indian space infrastructure.