Indian Space Industry Nearing Its Golden Age With These Government Policy Initiatives

Focused tech orientation and its optimum utilisation backed with policy initiatives will accelerate the Indian space industry’s future growth

By Girish Linganna

Space

The Indian space sector is undergoing a “space industry renaissance” and it has been predicted that academia, research, and industry will converge to accelerate technological development. Both international and domestic space requirements have exponentially increased, with a series of reforms leading towards a golden age in the highly specialised space industry.

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India’s Space Programme is at a critical juncture where the potential for unparalleled growth seems to be within reach. The sentinels of this positive transformation are the nation’s private sector, notably Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) and they are projected to continue to spearhead the ever-evolving, ever-growing space industry.

India’s space industry, from humble origins to a promising future 

What began over half a century ago in 1963 has finally matured to the point where it is a globally acknowledged space power and can see itself becoming a global industry leader in the domain. In the ’80s, India went on to develop the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) and the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) series of satellites.

In the heyday of the space programme, the primary application was societal, but the security matrix over the region changed the shift, emphasising national security-related applications

With a glorious start, an even more glorious present followed with the nation’s space program now robust enough to initiate missions that are interplanetary in nature. Launch systems developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have the distinction of offering one of the most economical and reliable solutions to customers worldwide.

In the heyday of the space programme, the primary application was societal, but the security matrix over the region changed the shift, emphasising national security-related applications. At the start, the India’s space programme was focused on societal applications. However, regional security dynamics have ensured concurrent focus on using this domain for enhancing national security.

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National development in the new age depends mainly on the sustainable development of many industries, and private players play a strategic role in this regard, India’s space industry being no exception. It may be poignant to note that while ISRO had interacted with private companies for supply and the manufacturing of components for a while now, private players were not accorded the privilege of end-to-end manufacturing of space systems. So what policies have the Government of India initiated to enhance the highly specialised sector?

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Government’s boost to the indigenous space sector

As aforementioned, the Indian government, in a first, gave private sector firms the permission to take part in the entire spectrum of the space sector. These commercial activities range from everything from satellite manufacturing, launching satellites to managing ground based services.

In 2019 the establishment of New Space India Limited (NSIL), a public sector enterprise under DoS, proved to be a gamechanger for the space startup scene in the country. This gave impetus to a host of fresh startups looking to find opportunities in the global and domestic space market

There was also a dire requirement for enacting regulatory law; this was initiated in the form of the draft Space Activities Bill (2017). While the bill is currently under review, it intends to foster and regulate space-related activities in the country. Furthermore, the bill wants to bolster public-private collaboration under the Department of Space’s (DoS) guidelines.

In 2019 the establishment of New Space India Limited (NSIL), a public sector enterprise under DoS, proved to be a gamechanger for the space startup scene in the country. This gave impetus to a host of fresh startups looking to find opportunities in the global and domestic space market. NSIL is also looking to bring in the private sector for various ISRO initiatives. In NSIL’s maiden mission, ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket launched Amazonia-1, a Brazilian earth observation satellite. 18 more satellites were also launched by the new public sector enterprise.

Furthermore, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (INSPACe) was set up to incubate tech into private companies. Going by data from last year (January 2021) there were already more than four dozen space startups. A few of these companies made strides, such as being able to test their own engines and moving to sophisticated stages of launch vehicle development. India’s space dept is also involved in Space Enterprise Encouragement and Development (SEED), designed to serve as a structured support system for MSMEs and startup ventures in terms of research and development, product development and innovation.

However, even now, the funds allocated are meagre compared to most major space powers. The lack of a robust legislative structure is another sore point; furthermore, the absence of a rock-solid dispute settlement framework collectively discourages private sector investment in an otherwise lucrative industry

However, even now, the funds allocated are meagre compared to most major space powers. The lack of a robust legislative structure is another sore point; furthermore, the absence of a rock-solid dispute settlement framework collectively discourages private sector investment in an otherwise lucrative industry. Simply put, some allocation of finances and resources and legislative framework combined with the encouragement of investment and collaboration could bode well for an industry with immense growth potential and make India a force to be reckoned with in the private sector.

India’s priming space industry renaissance prophecy seems to be coming closer to reality. ISRO’s new chairman, Dr S Somanath, explained that his areas of emphasis will be geared towards space tech, policy initiatives and their implementation, and areas where stakeholders need to be addressed. There are different segments that we need to concentrate on. The ISRO chief had maintained that tech orientation is an Indian strong suit and will need to be leveraged in a manner that would be its optimum utilisation. This vision paints a good picture of India’s space industry ahead!

– The writer is an Aerospace and Defence Analyst & Director ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd (An Indo- German Company).