More than a year after India demonstrated its first anti-satellite missile tech that could kill satellites using interceptors launched from ground, a startup (Digantara India) incubated at IISc’s Society for Innovation and Development (SID) has begun work on counter-space technology that can disable enemy satellites using in-orbit lasers.
Digantara, which is developing India’s first space-based surveillance platform to track space objects and provide Space Situational Awareness (SSA), will launch a constellation of nanosatellites — first of which will be put in space next year — that use lasers and sensors to detect and track objects.
It is also looking at tweaking its space object detection technology to protect Indian satellites from adverse actions of foreign satellites, which it feels will benefit India’s defence forces. Started in 2018, the firm so far has a funding of Rs 50 lakh — Rs 25 lakh from SID, and the remaining from two Government of India schemes run by the ministry of MSME and the DST, which they availed through IISc.
“We are in advance stages of raising $1million in seed funding,” Digantara CEO and managing partner Anirudh N Sharma, said.
Digantara CTO Tanveer Ahmed said: “…SSA is a necessity to both space sustainability and weaponization. We use a low power laser for illuminating objects, whose beam, being highly divergent, has extremely low power flux, and hence, completely safe for operational satellites and their systems.”
He said these lasers can be worked upon for counter-space in two ways: First, a less divergent beam with higher power can exert radiation pressure on objects sending them off course. Second, a directional high-power laser can annihilate satellites but would result in creating more space debris and more debris can trigger events like Kessler’s syndrome, rendering space unusable.
“…The first method can be used for debris mitigation, collision avoidance, and against adverse satellites by the military all while not creating debris, while the second approach results in debris and must be avoided,” he said.
Speaking about the advantages of their tech, Sharma said: “We can detect space objects as small as 1cm in size while ground-based systems (all space object tracking happens through such tech presently) can track objects above 10 cm. This enables us to detect more than 18 times more objects.”
Digantara also offers an active-passive hybrid tracking, he said the firm’s sensors detect objects with (active) and without (passive) illumination while all other systems are either active or passive.
The satellites will contain space weather sensors that measure dynamic space weather in real-time. Onces the constellation is up in space, it’ll provide space objects catalog, mission support for spacecraft, conjunction analysis (prediction and providing alerts on hypervelocity satellite collisions), avoidance maneouvre support, maneouvre prediction and detection and re-entry prediction.
“We’ll be an enabler to space missions. Accurate SSA is a necessity for areas like debris mitigation, in-orbit servicing, human space flight, space tourism, space rendezvous, and military usage,” Sharma added.
Even before the firm has launched its first satellite, Digantara has tied up with a big European firm — Telespazio Vega Deutschland Gmbh — which is developing the ENABLE.space platform to provide monitoring and control capabilities of space data missions, including asset management, mission planning, simulation and automation and offer operations as a service (OaaS).
The partnership will provide an end-to-end space mission management solution with high-resolution insights on space situation. “The objective is to set the basis of a future relationship between Digantara and Telespazio where we use their operations services and they can offer the wider SSA market access to us,” Sharma said.