SPACE EXPLORATION TO OPEN FOR PRIVATE PLAYERS IN INDIA
India will soon become one among the few countries in the world to open up the Space sector for the private players.
The Government of India has decided to leverage the capabilities and achievements of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) by opening up the Space sector to private enterprises.
For this purpose, the Department of Space under Government of India will soon set up an autonomous national nodal body Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (In-SPACe).
This body will act both as regulator as well as enabler for the private sector to carry out end-to-end activities in the space sector including building and launching of rockets and satellites as well as providing space-based services on a commercial basis.
The involvement of the private sector in space programmes gained momentum during the leadership of Professor Satish Dhawan.
For over five decades, the engagement model for private players in Indian space programmes has been limited to manufacturing and supply of parts and components, providing labour and facilities to ISRO, which means that private enterprises were not allowed to create and own Intellectual Property (IP) based products.
The existing model of transfer of IP and buyback by ISRO meant that the private sector has mostly absorbed the processes that go into producing space hardware, the quality control and the facilities for it.
However, the critical piece that seems to be missing in the majority of the vendors serving the space programme is design knowledge and the ability to create their own IP and roll out products in the market. But this model is set to change with new reforms by the government.
In-SPACe will support endeavors of private players namely, industries whether big or small, startups and academia to carry out all space activities and for this ISRO will share its expertise and technical facilities.
In addition, private industries will also be encouraged to undertake research and development activities also. They will also be able to take part in science and interplanetary missions of ISRO. This is planned to be achieved through “Announcement of Opportunities”.
This nodal body will ensure safety, security and quality aspects of the activities of these private players and also facilitate ease of doing space business at low cost. It will also permit private companies to build facilities within Department of Space premises as per need and feasibility.
The In-SPACe will have its own directorates for technical, legal, safety & security, activity promotion and monitoring purposes. The body will have a Board having representatives from industry, academia and Government of India.
Private Companies can directly apply to In-SPACe which will independently evaluate and process the applications and once decided, the decision of In-SPACe will be binding on all stakeholders whether private players or ISRO. This mechanism may take about 3 to 6 months to become operational.
However, private players start applying to the Department of Space in the interim without waiting for In-SPACe mechanism to formalize. This opening up of the space sector will definitely give a boost to employment generation efforts of India.
For In-SPACe to perform its duties in an effective manner, there is a need for developing policies as well. A new Navigation Policy is also being proposed. In addition, there is a need to change existing Satellite Communication (SATCOM) and Remote Sensing policies.
Permitting the entry of private players in space projects appears to be the new way to ensure efficiency and optimum utilization of resources.
Another major reform in this sector is recalibration of the role of New Space India Ltd. (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO. NSIL will be empowered to take over the operational launch vehicles, satellites as well as commercial application activities and execute them through industry consortiums. It will also undertake technology transfer activities.
ISRO's programs are hailed across the world for running on a shoe-string budget. The Mars mission was staggeringly cheap by western standards. In this new scenario, ISRO’s activities will not be reduced and will continue to space activities, including advanced research and development activities, interplanetary missions, human space flights and capacity building activities, besides, supporting private players as per In-SPACe’s decisions.
To discuss and explain these aspects about the reforms, functions and strategies, ISRO is planning to conduct an industry promotion meet within a fortnight where more details will be shared about the mechanism and application requirements.
Leading space explorers such as the US, China and the European space agency are also encouraging private participation.
But the United States took the giant leap when it allowed its space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to collaborate with Elon Musk's SpaceX. From Richard Branson to Jeff Bezos, billionaires are creating their own space companies. It’s time for India to become self-reliant in this sector and take giant leaps in space technology and exploration.