Space is a $400 billion-plus global industry and India holds a stake of about 3% in it[i]. Narendra Modi in his ‘Make in India’ campaign and the recent ‘Aatmanirbhar’ campaign has promised to increase India’s share in the global space economy to as much as 14% and fundamentally change the face of the Indian space economy by introducing the private sector into the loop. ISRO chief Dr. K Sivan has stated that by promoting private players and enabling them to provide end-to-end space services with the help of government reforms, ISRO will be relieved of several functions. By integrating State technology with private sector resources, there shall be a revolution in the space sector in India. Until now the private players were only involved as the ‘support’, supplying parts and components. With the introduction of the private sector in the driving seat, India’s potential increases several folds.
The government has introduced space sector reforms in the International Space Conference where Dr. K Sivan announced that ISRO is going to provide various opportunities to startups and MSMEs for various services and also empower them to initiate their own space missions. The Department of Space (DOS) is presently working on the SEED (Space Enterprise Encouragement and Development) program which is aimed at assisting startups and MSMEs to innovate, develop, and research[ii]. It will actively work in cohesion with the private players and provide necessary help and government facilities, resources, etc. at reasonable prices. To cope with these reforms, new mechanisms in the name of ‘Launch Vehicle policy’ and ‘Space Exploration policy’ shall be formulated to ensure fluid movement. The existing SATCOM and remote sensing policies will also be amended to suit the needs of private players, ensuring wider inclusivity and transparency. On June 24, 2020, the Union Cabinet approved private sector participation in an array of space activities which also includes inter-planetary missions[iii], aiming at finally making solid legislation out of the Draft Space Activities Bill 2017. With the advent of private sector participation, there will not only be technological advancements but also large scale employment.
The most significant organisations working towards inclusion of the private sector in space activities are New Space India Limited (NSIL) and Indian National Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe). Even the most recent Aatmanirbhar campaign includes a section
- Established on March 6, 2019, under the administrative control of the Department of Space and Indian Companies Act 2013.
- The second commercial arm of ISRO after Antrix Corporation.
- A major objective of NSIL is to facilitate the working of ISRO with the private industries, aid mutual transfer of technologies (the likes of PSLV), and assist in the marketing of space-based services and scale up industry participation.
- Antrix and NSIL are set up as wholly-owned government departments with intersecting objectives. The dissimilarity is that Antrix prioritises and majorly works as the commercial arm of ISRO, working on foreign deals of space-based services and satellites, etc. NSIL on the other hand has been set up for incentivising local industries for space manufacturing.
- Set up as a ‘single window nodal agency’ with its own squad, it will toil exclusively to facilitate the space-activities of NGPEs (Non-Government Private Enterprises).
- It will act as an autonomous body under ISRO and harmonise the operations between ISRO and NGPEs.
- IN-SPACe will put down a favourable mechanism for effective promotion and sharing of technology and expertise to induce active participation from NGPEs in space activities.
- Unlike NSIL, IN-SPACe will not need any permission from ISRO to carry out its activities since it is autonomous in nature. Both of these government entities will work in harmony to extract maximum potential out of the Indian private sector.
- AATMANIRBHAR BHARAT
The Aatmanirbhar package announced earlier this year addresses private sector participation in the space sector. Its objectives are as follows:
- Facilities- While making space for private enterprises in satellite building, launches, and other space-based services, DOS and ISRO will be providing all the technological and professional assistance needed to the tech-entrepreneurs. All government-owned amenities like the launch pad, special training/testing grounds, etc. will be made available to private players at a nominal cost.
- Data sharing- The liberal geo-spatial data policy was addressed in the program which will enable the private players to tap into Indian remote sensing data to build space-based applications for environmental purposes or for assessing the terrain or agricultural applications. Presently, such data has to be purchased from foreign companies. A national geo-spatial policy is in works since 2015.
- Ease of doing space-business- The government will provide predictable policy measures and regulatory environment to private players with less government intervention as is mechanically possible. The first step was shown towards this liberal approach when heavy-weight projects like planetary exploration and outer space travelwere opened up for the private sector.
These reforms will boost space activities in India and lead it up the path to become a global technology powerhouse.[iv]
The aforementioned program that unlocked private sector participation will enable the startups and MSMEs to carry out the following activities:
- Build their own rockets and satellites under the DOS framework.
- Avail launch services provided by DOS and ISRO.
- Enabled to carry out space-services on a commercial basis.
- NSIL will have an amendment that will change its ‘supply-driven’ policy to a ‘demand-driven’ policy to accommodate the private players and cater specifically to their needs.[v]
Indian Government realised that the private sector of India possesses great potential and once given an opportunity it will bear fruits that will help her gain technological supremacy. With these reforms, private players will freely be able to operate in the space domain and produce efficient results. This does not mean that ISRO is going to be sidelined. In fact, these reforms were largely anticipated by ISRO and the DOS as this will reduce much of their burden and help them focus on rather significant projects. ISRO will remain a wholly-owned government entity that will work hand in hand with private players to achieve unparalleled success. With the private sector engaged in providing end-to-end space services ISRO will have its time horizons widened. It will be able to focus on advanced research and development and flagship projects like the Gaganyaan (Human space flight) and the Indian space station.
The private sector is an impetus that the Indian space sector needs to push the Indian Space Program (ISP) beyond limits. India is among the few that possess advanced technologies and it would be a shame if the private sector is left out of the loop. Applications for permissions have already started arriving at IN-SPACe to sanction the use of government facilities for carrying out space-based services. This shows just how ambitious the private players are to take the ISP to the big table where the developed economies play and to prove the phrase, ‘The Sky is the limit’ wrong.
[i] Laxman, “India has just 3 percent share in 400 billion dollar space economy: Former ISRO chief”, The Times Of India, July 30, 2020
[ii] “Ushering the New Era for Indian Space Sector”, International Space Conference, held virtually at isro.gov.in, September 15-17, 2020
[iii] “Historic reforms initiated in the Space sector”, Press release from the PMO’s office, June 24, 2020
[iv] “Aatmanirbhar Bharat Part 4- New Horizons of Growth”, Press release from Finance Minister of India, pg. 19, May 16, 2020
[v] ISRO Chief K Sivan addresses media, DD News,June 25, 2020