Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Digantara: Building a Google Maps for space

Digantara is evolving into a provider of an important infrastructure layer to not only commercial space economy customers, but also for India's strategic and defence purposes

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Jul 10, 2024 10:46:53 AM IST
Updated: Jul 10, 2024 10:50:55 AM IST

(From left) Tanveer Ahmed, Rahul Rawat and Anirudh Sharma, co-founders, Digantara
Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India(From left) Tanveer Ahmed, Rahul Rawat and Anirudh Sharma, co-founders, Digantara Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes India
 
The founders of Digantara Research and Technologies describe their venture as a “space situational awareness” company. Anirudh Sharma and Rahul Rawat started tinkering with the idea for it while they were still in college, in Punjab, in 2018, having learnt of a satellite club their friend Tanveer Ahmed was running in Bengaluru.

The trio got into it in real earnest from 2020, having graduated with degrees in engineering, and with incubation and grant support from the IISc. Today, Digantara is evolving into a provider of an important infrastructure layer to not only commercial space economy customers, but also for India’s strategic and defence purposes.

“There are over 11,000 active satellites in orbit, and that number will only increase,” says Sharma, the CEO. “We need a mechanism to navigate an orbit and understand what’s happening. Think of what we’re building as Google Maps for space.”

(From left) Tanveer Ahmed, Rahul Rawat and Anirudh Sharma, co-founders, Digantara
Image: Nishant Ratnakar for Forbes IndiaThe significance of the work being done by companies such as Digantara is that, in aviation or in maritime navigation, there are internationally recognised rules and organisations. “We don’t have something similar in space,” Sharma adds. Today’s geopolitics makes the prospect of such an accord distant.

In addition to “situational awareness”, Digantara is also developing technologies for a more ambitious objective—“space domain awareness”. This entails understanding of what’s going on in space not just from a local perspective, but everything that’s happening in the orbit, he says.

The two software platforms the company is developing are Space-MAP (Space Mission Assurance Platform), and STARS (Space Threat Assessment and Response Suite).

Over the last 12 months, Digantara has focussed on a few fundamental blocks of products and services, Sharma says. The first are the electro-optical sensors—the hardware needed to track “resident space objects”. As it builds out its infrastructure, the Bengaluru startup will use a combination of space-based sensors and via ground-based telescopic observatories. The first of these observatories is coming up in Ladakh.

Also read: Chara Technologies: Building motors sans rare earth metals

Data from these sensors, and what Digantara also collects from various government agency and commercial sources, will go towards building its own “libraries”. Digantara is developing the software to provide analytics using these libraries.

Earlier this year, Digantara inaugurated its 25,000 sq ft state-of-the-art assembly and testing facility in Bengaluru. Among its international customers is Singapore Space and Technology, which uses data sets to train its machine learning algorithms, Sharma says. More recently, Digantara has signed a contract to supply its optical sensors to Space Machines Company, an Australian in-space servicing provider, under the MAITRI initiative (Mission for Australia-India Technology, Research and Innovation), supported by AUD 8.5 million grant from the Australian government.

Digantara expects to offer its software platforms on the cloud. On the commercial front, the medium- to long-term aim is to develop a full-fledged satellite operation management platform that can automate significant parts of those operations for customers. For defence use, version one of STARS has been released, Sharma says.

(This story appears in the 12 July, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)