Turning My Model Rockets Hobby Into One Of India's First Space Companies
Tell us your background and about STAR
I did my bachelors in electronics engineering in 2017 and have been passionate about space since the age of 10. I always wanted to build things that can fly and touch the stars that lay beyond and aspired to be an aerospace engineer. But, I could not be an aerospace engineer due to not getting good grades in school.
I always used to read about space science and space technology but, as I didn’t have internet at my place during childhood, I used to acquire knowledge about space science from books, television shows and attending several events. Basically, I am a self-taught space pioneer.
It’s my ultimate vision to make space accessible for everyone. I could not join any space research organization because of poor academic performance, so I decided to build a platform for myself and other space enthusiasts.
In 2015, during my 3rd year of graduation, I initiated the first rocket club of India named STAR Club. We were a team of six classmates who used to build model rockets from scratch. Initially, STAR was just a rocket club. Now, it is an aerospace company incorporated as Avkashyaan Private Limited and also recognised under StartUp India by DIPP.
We aim to build launch vehicles for small satellites and make space missions commercial and economical. Presently, we provide high powered launch services for CanSat sized satellites. And we also provide space education to students through workshop, training and internship programs. Our customers are students and CanSat manufacturers. We will be developing rocket engines and commercializing them by the year 2022 and our targeted customers for that will be small satellite launchers manufacturing companies.
How did the idea for STAR come about and what was it like getting started?
STAR was initiated as a rocket club with just an intention to build and fly model rockets. Later on, we realised that people in India were not aware about model rocketry, so we decided to educate them and burst the myth about rocket science being out of their reach.
We started conducting workshops, training and internship programs for students and created awareness about the importance of rocket technology in India. In less than two years, we were able to reach out to 30,000+ students across India.
Gradually, we’ve become a platform for students to do research and pursue their dreams of working on rocket technology. To date, we have provided internships and project based learning experiences on rocket technology to over 160 students.
Meanwhile, the small satellite market was growing exponentially. India does not have any launch vehicle specifically developed for small satellites. We took the initiative to develop private launch vehicles to launch small satellites to low Earth orbit.
We realised that people in India were not aware about model rocketry, so we decided to educate them and burst the myth about rocket science being out of their reach.
We at STAR strive to build commercial and economical small satellite launchers. We aim to make rocket technology simpler and space accessible to everyone.
It is said that, “If you want to learn how to swim, you need to get into the pool”. Likewise, we believe in executing and trying out the things rather than just planning them. We never thought whether we will be able to achieve space or not, we always thought how can we achieve the space.
I started building a team that can work collaboratively for a common vision. Initially, for the first few months, we faced management and workflow issues due to a lack of experience (when we started, we were undergrad students with no prior job experience). But, we realised that setbacks are a crucial part of one’s journey. We should not cry about setbacks, instead we should learn from them and cherish them.
How did you go about funding the company initially?
To be frank, I did not invest a single amount. STAR was initiated with zero investment and, since its establishment, we have never gone for any kind of funding or investment. We have successfully bootstrapped it since 2015 and look forward to bootstrapping it further for the next 18 months.
We generated our revenue by serving people through various educational activities and CanSat launch services. We conducted seminars in various schools and generated the revenue which we further used to build assets. Last year, we generated revenue of around INR 6.6 Lakhs (around $9,440). We invested the turnover back into building the company assets and into research and development.
Along with the awareness about space technology, the small satellite and student-built satellite market is growing exponentially. India needs launch vehicles specifically designed to launch these satellites to space.
We aim to build space technology economically and that can be done when we learn to work and build the technology with limited resources. Working without investment helped us in developing our critical thinking skills and to try out various business strategies to generate revenue to sustain. Maybe after a couple of years, we will be open for funding/investment for exponential expansion.
Why is the problem you are solving important and how does it help human space exploration?
As mentioned earlier, India is a country where every other kid aspires to be a space pioneer. But due to lack of space research organisations, not all aspiring space pioneers are able to pursue their dream of reaching space. We needed a platform in India that not only educates students but also provides them with opportunities to get hands-on experience in rocket technology. STAR is a platform for young minds who aspire to be rocket scientists.
Along with the awareness about space technology, the small satellite and student-built satellite market is growing exponentially. India needs launch vehicles specifically designed to launch these satellites to space. Building such launch vehicles will not only serve small satellite manufacturers but also scale up the launch frequency in India. We at STAR took this initiative to design systems for small satellite launchers in India.
STAR also aims to design technologies that will be useful to colonize Mars. We believe that “Earth will become the next Mars (Dead planet) and Mars can become the next Earth (Liveable planet). Existence of life in our solar system depends on what happens first.” Humanity should not be limited to earth. We are the space pirates. One day, humans will be there on the Moon, Mars and beyond. It can be possible that, when we build up innovations on Earth, that will be useful to sustain life beyond the Earth.
The team was nervous before the launch and so was I. Those 10 seconds of countdown before the launch were like 10 hours for me.
What are some achievements you're proud of?
We developed a high powered rocket named STAR-XL that weighs around 1600 grams and can go up to an altitude of 800 meters. It also had a flight controller to measure the rocket altitude and eject the recovery system.
A few months back, we scheduled its first test flight. It was a challenging task for us as the complete rocket with its avionics and propulsion systems were indigenously developed in-house.
The team was nervous before the launch and so was I. Those 10 seconds of countdown before the launch were like 10 hours for me. But at T-0 seconds, the rocket lifted off from the pad and flew swiftly to its desired altitude. That was the moment when we almost cried out of joy. That motivated us to push our limits even further.
What have been some of your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
Building a rocket is challenging but building a rocket company is even more challenging. You need to develop a workforce whose risk taking and failure facing appetite is high. Team building and management is one of the challenges that we have been facing.
To overcome this challenge, we started training the members and inculcate critical thinking and problem solving attitudes through team building activities.
Another challenge we faced was a lack of awareness of space exploration in India. But then, we conducted educational campaigns, workshops and training programs across India to educate students and provide them project based learning experiences on space technology.
Lastly, challenges are the most crucial part of our journey. They are essential for you to discover your capabilities and even push your limits. These are the times where you actually grow.
What are exciting milestones coming up for STAR?
Ahaa! Exciting missions are on the way. In the next six months, we are launching flight computers and other avionics systems for high powered rockets. These flight computers will help students to build thrust vectoring rockets.
We will be launching DIY rocket and satellite kits for students by August 2019. These DIY kits will help students learn basic principles of rocket and satellite technology. We will also be building various controllers that will be implemented in our sounding rockets for a desired flight.
In the next couple of years, we aim to build liquid propelled rocket engines and perform static test firing. These liquid propelled rocket engines will be used in our small satellite launchers in future.
What advice do you have for aspiring space entrepreneurs?
Space missions teach you two things:
A rocket has lots of reasons to fail and only one reason to succeed i.e. when everything goes well. You can afford making mistakes during on-ground tests but you cannot afford it during the final flight. Everything needs to just go perfect in terms of performance.
With perfection, you need to have patience. In the space business, you will face setbacks in various segments such as technical, financial and management. You need to have a lot of patience, keep calm during unavoidable situations, think critically and take decisions accordingly.
Challenges are the most crucial part of our journey. They are essential for you to discover your capabilities and even push your limits. These are the times where you actually grow.
Space is not easy but it’s also not impossible. You need to have a passion for it. If you are not passionate, you will give up at some point. You just need to understand the difference between passion and interest. Interest is like a crush that keeps on varying. Passion is like a wife that stays with you forever.
How can the public support you with your mission?
We have no specific requirements in terms of support but do need advisers for technical segments like avionics and propulsion, irrespective of the place where they belong to.
We also would like people to follow us on social media, stay updated on our work and connect us with people with similar areas of interest. You can hopefully enjoy what we do and give us constructive feedback.
We may go for crowdfunding in upcoming years to build technologies; you can support us in that too!
Lastly, where can people find out more about STAR and follow along?
You can visit our website: www.starlabsurat.com
You can follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/StarLabSurat
You can email us on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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