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Google leads funding round for Indian space startup Pixxel

Alphabet Inc’s Google is leading a $36 million funding round for Bengaluru-based Pixxel, a satellite-image startup, in the first major investment in the Indian space sector since the government launched its privatisation policy in April.

Pixxel, founded in 2019, is building a constellation of satellites that have the ability to identify mineral deposits or the productivity of crops by analysing the spectral signature of an image.

Miner Rio Tinto Ltd and Australian agritech company DataFarming are clients, Pixxel said.

The startup has raised more $71 million from investors including Accenture PLC. Pixxel did not specify how much Google had invested or the valuation it reflected.

Google in India did not immediately respond to questions about the investment.

Founder and Chief Executive Awais Ahmed said Pixxel would be “the most valued space tech company in India after this investment”.

That had been rocket and launch provider Skyroot Aerospace, valued at an estimated $163 million, according to Tracxn, which tracks startups.

“We work with satellite data and Google does a lot of work around that with agriculture and environment,” Ahmed told Reuters. “They also have Google Earth … so a combination of that led to them seeing a benefit.”

Pixxel is among the many private companies looking for a fillip since India opened the space sector, encouraging startups to deliver broadband services like Starlink and to power applications like tracking supply chains.

The government announced its private-sector space policy framework in April.

The funding comes at a time when startups globally have struggled to raise funds. Space startups, in particular, have come under pressure after the bankruptcy of Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit launch company.

Ahmed said the funding would be used to build out its satellite network. Pixxel is readying six satellites for launch next year to add to the three it has now and looking to hire more engineers for its analytics.

Ahmed has said he was inspired to launch a space startup from a visit Elon Musk’s SpaceX as part of a student competition to build a demonstration “hyperloop” transport pod.

He and co-founder Kshitij Khandelwal set out to build an AI model that could use satellite data to predict crop yields, detect illegal mining and track natural disasters.

They launched Pixxel when they concluded existing commercial satellite images did not provide enough detail. Pixxel’s satellites take in and analyse a wide spectrum of light instead of just assigning primary colours to each pixel, a technology known as hyperspectral imaging. Reuters

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