(This June 1st article was corrected after Pixxel changed the description of its round to state that Google did not lead the round, but participated in it, in the title and paragraph 1).
BENGALURU (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s Google is participating in a $36 million funding round for Pixxel, a Bengaluru-based satellite imagery startup, in the first major investment in India’s space sector since the government launched a privatization policy in April.
Pixxel, founded in 2019, is building a constellation of satellites capable of identifying mineral deposits or crop productivity by analyzing the spectral signature of an image.
Miner Rio Tinto Ltd and Australian agritech firm DataFarming are customers, Pixxel said.
The startup has raised over $71 million from investors including Accenture PLC. Pixelxel does not specify the ratings it reflects.
Google said it is investing in Pixxel through its India Digitalization Fund, which focuses on investing in India-based startups.
Founder and Managing Director Awais Ahmed said Pixxel would become “the most valuable aerospace technology company in India after this investment”.
It is rocket and launch provider Skyroot Aerospace, which is valued at about $163 million, according to Tracxn, which tracks start-up developments.
“We are working with satellite data and Google is doing a lot of work in this area of agriculture and the environment,” Ahmed told Reuters. “They also have Google Earth? So it’s a combination of those things that allows them to see an advantage.
Pixxel is one of many private companies seeking a boost since India opened up its space sector, encouraging start-ups to provide broadband services such as Starlink and power applications such as space tracking, supply chains.
The government announced in April its space policy for the private sector.
This funding comes at a time when startups around the world are scrambling to raise funds. Space startups, in particular, have come under pressure after Richard Branson’s launch company, Virgin Orbit, went bankrupt.
Pak Ahmed said the funds would be used to expand his satellite network. Pixxel is gearing up to launch six satellites next year, in addition to the three it already has, and is seeking more engineers for its analytical work.
Mr Ahmed said he was inspired to launch a space startup while visiting Elon Musk’s SpaceX as part of a student competition to build a demonstration “hyperloop” transport capsule.
Together with his co-founder, Kshitij Khandelwal, he set about building an AI model capable of using satellite data to predict crop yields, detect illegal mining and track natural disasters.
They launched Pixxel when they found that existing commercial satellite imagery lacked detail. Pixxel satellites capture and analyze a broad spectrum of light instead of assigning a primary color to each pixel, a technology known as hyperspectral imaging.
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