Investing in Space

Investing in Space: India is the industry's 'sleeping giant,' according to an expert behind the international Artemis Accords

Indian Ambassador Taranjit Sandhu, right, talks with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, after having signed the Artemis Accords on June 21, 2023.
Bill Ingalls / NASA

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Overview: The sleeping giant

Last week, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a red-carpet visit to the U.S., meeting with top government and corporate leaders. Amid the flurry of partnerships and contracts announced during Modi's visit, the country also became the 27th to sign the Artemis Accords, the international set of principles around sustainable global cooperation in space.

The White House also announced that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and NASA will work together toward flying the South Asian country's astronauts to the International Space Station next year. India will also invest in space research missions alongside the U.S.

India's no slouch when it comes to space, but the announcements come at a notable time: Russia is steadily fading away as a space superpower, with the sector increasingly a two-horse geopolitical race between the U.S. and China. Could India fill the Russia-sized void?

Mike Gold, who helped lead the creation of the Artemis Accords three years ago, definitively believes so:

"India will not only fill the void that Russia is leaving, but will far exceed it," Gold, now Redwire's chief growth officer, told me. "The capabilities of India to engage, to innovate, to support a more robust [industry], particularly commercial space, is going to far outstrip anything that Russia had ever been able to do."

Gold described India as "a sleeping giant in the space world that is awakening" – albeit "one that's been snoring loudly." Already, the country has "done so much with so little," he noted.

While India's space budget has more than doubled over the past decade, its Department of Space – which leads both civil and military missions – has just $1.6 billion allocated for 2023, a fraction of either the NASA or Space Force annual budgets.

On the private side, India ranks as fifth among countries for equity investment in space over the past decade, according to Space Capital – but still represents just 3% of the funds invested globally from 2014 to now.

Gold believes India's bureaucratic reforms in its space efforts are helping the country move faster in the sector. The nation's already flown robotic missions to the moon and Mars. But a further push toward growing its commercial market, combined with greater cooperation and investment alongside the U.S., "will be transformative not just for India, but for the U.S. and the commercial space sector as a whole," he said.

"No one is altering their path – we're just complementing each other relative to Artemis and the existing plans with India. And both countries will benefit greatly," Gold said.

Follow along: CNBC will be watching closely this morning as Virgin Galactic attempts its first commercial spaceflight. Check out our live coverage.

What's up

  • Elon Musk outlines changes to Starship for second launch, in a discussion where he put odds of a successful flight at 60%. While SpaceX is pushing to have the next prototype rocket and booster ready in the next six weeks, the timing of the launch depends on the FAA completing its mishap investigation into the first attempt. One of the major changes to Starship that Musk detailed was the shift to a "hot staging" technique for separating the ship from the booster, where the engines start firing before separation happens. The company recently completed a six-engine test firing of its next Starship prototype. – CBS / SpaceX
  • Rocket Lab will attempt an Electron post-launch recovery on its next mission, planning to pull the booster out of the ocean after splashdown as part of its reusability program. The mission is scheduled to launch during a window that opens on July 14. – Rocket Lab
  • ULA delays Vulcan debut launch to Q4: The company confirmed that the rocket's long-awaited inaugural launch is no longer expected to launch this summer, as ULA works to resolve an issue in the upper stage's design that caused an explosion during testing in March. – Ars Technica
  • SpaceX valuation reportedly hits $150 billion, with the company conducting one of its regular secondary rounds for insiders to sell shares. – Bloomberg
  • ArianeGroup completed the first hot fire test campaign of its Prometheus engine with a Themis rocket core stage, as the European company pushes to develop a reusable rocket. – ArianeGroup
  • NASA cost projection for Mars sample return jumps as high as $10 billion, with the ambitious mission requiring more than double the funding that was previously expected. – Ars Technica / SpaceNews
  • SpaceX launches 44th mission of the year, as a Falcon 9 rocket on its eighth flight carried another 56 Starlink satellites into orbit. – SpaceX
  • Spanish rocket builder PLD postpones launch due to temperature regulations, with the company further delaying an attempt to launch its suborbital MIURA 1 rocket to September, citing fire prevention regulations in the country. – PLD Space
  • Swedish satellite communications provider Ovzon delays launch again, with the company saying that its Ovzon 3 satellite will miss this summer's SpaceX window due to assembly and testing delays. – SpaceNews
  • Japanese military testing out Starlink, with the country's Self-Defense Forces using the service on a trial basis since March and considering making full use of the system next year. – The Japan News
  • Australia cuts plan for billion-dollar satellite observation program: The country's government scrapped plans for the National Space Mission for Earth Observation (NSMEO) program, which would have gathered data on natural disasters and agriculture with four satellites. – ABC News

Industry maneuvers

  • Virgin Galactic raises $300 million and looks to add another $400 million as it develops its next-generation spacecraft to expand its fleet: The space tourism company completed an "at the market" (ATM) raise that it began in August, while simultaneously announcing a subsequent ATM for an additional $400 million. – CNBC
  • Space computing startup Ramon raises $26 million in a round led by Foxconn subsidiary Ingrasys and Abu Dhabi's Strategic Development Fund. It was joined by investment from Grove Ventures, Deep Insight and UMC Capital. – Ramon.Space
  • Colorado-based startup Agile Space Industries raises $13 million: The round was led by Caruso Ventures and joined by investors including Lockheed Martin Ventures, Greater Colorado Venture Fund, CORI Innovation Fund and Greenline Ventures. Agile plans to use the funds to expand production and development of in-space propulsion thrusters. – Agile
  • Space mission management startup Continuum raises $3 million in a seed round led by Prophetic Capital Partners and joined by Mandala Space Ventures, Explorer1 Fund, Freeflow Ventures and Unlock Venture Partners. The company is working to streamline the tools and technology behind how spacecraft operators manage missions. – Continuum
  • Defense tech company Anduril acquires rocket propulsion startup Adranos for an undisclosed amount. Adranos, founded in 2015, builds solid rocket motors for use on missiles and hypersonic vehicles. – Anduril
  • SES awarded $134 million Space Force contract, to provide communications services to the Pentagon through the GovSat-1 satellite. – SES
  • Startup iRocket wins $1.8 million Space Force contract, to demonstrate a reusable small rocket engine. The contract requires iRocket perform a 120- to 180-seconds-long static fire of its engine. – iRocket
  • Lockheed Martin books launch on Firefly's Alpha rocket, with the dedicated mission set to support a technology demonstration. A timeline for the launch was not indicated. – Firefly Aerospace
  • Spire selected by wildfire monitoring company OroraTech to build eight satellites for the latter company's constellation to monitor global temperatures. The spacecraft are scheduled to launch in the middle of next year. Terms of the contract were not disclosed. – Spire

Market movers

  • Sierra Space generated $260 million in revenue last year. During a presentation at Jefferies Virtual Space Summit, Sierra Space CEO Tom Vice gave a look at some of the company's financials, as it prepares for the first launch of its Cargo Dream Chaser spaceplane near the end of this year. – Read more

Boldly going

  • Jane Rigby named senior project scientist for NASA's Webb telescope. Rigby, a Goddard astrophysicist, was one of the telescope' three commissioning scientists and takes the role from John Mather, who has led the Webb science team since 1995. – NASA
  • Andrew Pemberton named SpaceNews CEO, after serving as the industry publication's top marketer. He takes over from Greg Thomas, who transitions to CTO. – SpaceNews
  • Jacqueline Feldscher named managing editor of Payload, a space-focused media and newsletter startup. Feldscher was the venture's senior policy reporter, having joined after previously reporting with Defense One and Politico.– Feldscher
  • Stephen Clark joins Ars Technica as a space reporter, joining after 14 years with online publication SpaceflightNow. – Clark

On the horizon

  • June 29: Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity flies first commercial launch from New Mexico.
  • June 29: SpaceX's Cargo Dragon undocks from ISS to return NASA's CRS-27 mission.
  • July 1: SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches ESA's Euclid telescope from Florida.
  • July 4: Arianespace final Ariane 5 rocket launches the Syracuse 4B and Heinrich Hertz communications satellites from French Guiana.