Get your little rocket and launch it

This startup makes mini model rockets that commoners can launch

Published - October 03, 2018 12:24 am IST - BENGALURU

Founders of Rocketeers Divyanshu Poddar (left) and Akash Ekka.

Founders of Rocketeers Divyanshu Poddar (left) and Akash Ekka.

Here is some desire fulfilment for all those who wanted to become rocket scientists but could not; or, those who aspire to be one some day. They can ‘make and launch’ their rockets, albeit models. Divyanshu Poddar of space startup Rocketeers will show how.

Years ago, barely in his kindergarten, when fellow kids were learning the alphabet, Poddar already knew his favourite word for A. That was astronaut and he wanted to be one when he grew up.

But in Class 2, someone dashed the dream and told him that those who wear glasses cannot become astronauts. Poddar says that was probably when he willed, “If I can't go in a rocket, I will surely make my own ones.”

600 ft. above ground

Twenty-odd years on, that starry-eyed kid is a space science engineer, rocket educator and entrepreneur. He kept his promise, and made rockets that go up to 300-600 feet high, and sold 25,000 of them to educational or hobby users in recent years.

His passion for flying things has touched 1.2 lakh students and 120 institutions across the country through Rocketeers, the venture he co-founded in 2015 and steers with Akash Ekka. Now rocket enthusiasts can order online four levels of do-it-yourself kits from Rocketeers, in the ₹890-5,345 range.

“Ours are the first Indian custom-made model rockets. We provide fuel to burn up the rocket, arrange flying spaces, and virtually everything that one needs to build and fly them,” says Mr. Poddar.

“We want the culture of model rocketry to grow in India, not just among students. NGOs and companies organising workshops can get our bulk packs and fuel too,” he says.

The rockets, when assembled, are 25 to 55 cm long, made from a special kind of paper, resin, plastic, balsa wood and PVC foam and all firmly held together with adhesive. A cartridge containing 7-9 gm of their patented Black Powder propels it straight upwards.

Safety codes are in place to launch the little rockets safely in any open space. Soon, Rocketeers plans to arrange free community flying zones across the country, similar to a test tie-up it has with a Bengaluru school.

The eureka moment

Poddar’s old dream took shape when he was in his first year at the Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology, Thiruvananthapuram. One day, he was watching the flight of model rockets in a video made by a foreigner. It hit him that this is what he wanted to do.

“I saw flying model rockets for the first time. Here in India, students cannot make them. We don’t get components, there is no guidance, it is also a very expensive activity out of reach of most students,” says Mr. Poddar.

Luckily for him, the faculty at the premier space institute was game. Before long, “we were creating quite a ruckus on the campus. Over the next two years, we blew up 72 rockets but that is how it began,” he recalls.

After working for a year and restless, he quit his job in 2014 to follow amateur rocketry full time. Rocketeers was born in 2015 with an initial personal capital of ₹20 lakh. Messrs Poddar and Ekka soon found contract manufacturers in Ludhiana, concocted the patented solid fuel and tested rockets carrying fuel in the open grounds of Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu.

The rockets can be reused a dozen times, and there are repairs and spares, too. Newer models that can go up to 700 feet are getting ready. About 30 schools are in the loop and workshops are held across cities to fire up young minds.

No ‘pay’ load, and hungry

The startup’s money comes solely from selling the little rockets. About 5,000-7,000 rockets are made at a time in batches in weeks and sometimes months. The duo claim to have not taken their salaries for several months. Mr. Poddar uses his home in Indiranagar as their lab.

“Everything that we got was put back into the venture. We are yet to find a suitable investor who understands our dream. After a lull for more than a year, we hungry mouths are now back with new plans.”

Why should anyone learn to make and launch rockets? Mr. Poddar comes up with a bunch of reasons — school curriculum, science awareness, education for aspiring young space scientists, and building our future propulsion force as public and private space entities expand activities. Also for the sheer fun of seeing your rocket soar in air.

For now, Rocketeers’ makes are unguided — they just go up, and fall nearby once launched. But they can be relaunched sometimes with the body being intact. They can be refuelled somewhat like a lighter recharge or car AC refill by the company-provided solid-fuel packages.

Model rocketry in India may not be of the scale and seriousness of the National Rocketry Association and the Tripoli Rocketry Association of the US, but Rocketeers is eyeing a market of 2.5 crore students across 85,000 schools and 900 recognised engineering colleges where students of certain streams will learn much from it.

“Look at the drones policy, if the same thing happens for model rockets, that will really change the game in our country,” Mr. Poddar says.

Even as the rockets zoom 600 feet up in the sky, with no clarity on the law, it’s happy flying.

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