Will policy power India's race to space? | Mint

Will policy power India's race to space?

Photo: PTI
Photo: PTI

Summary

In 2020, the government liberalized the space sector and enabled large scale private sector participation in the country’s space programme which until then was the prerogative of ISRO

India wants its share in the global space economy to grow from 2% now to 10%. The success of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has spawned a number of private players, making the recently announced Indian Space Policy 2023 critical. Mint explains:

What does the space policy seek to achieve?

In 2020, the government liberalized the space sector and enabled large scale private sector participation in the country’s space programme which until then was the prerogative of ISRO. It did so after realizing that the private sector needs to have a bigger role if India has to augment its space capabilities, have a flourishing commercial space business, become a global power in the sector and use these capabilities for socio-economic development and security. The updated space policy seeks to provide regulatory certainty to achieve this vision of creating a thriving space eco-system.

Where does the space programme stand?

Ever since India launched its first sounding rocket in November 1963, its space programme has come a long way. ISRO has undertaken more than 120 spacecraft missions, 90-odd satellite launch missions and has put over 385 foreign satellites in orbit. Its two satellite launchers, Polar Satellite Launch vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), are considered to be reliable low-cost launch options for the world. Still, its space assets at 80 pales before the US’ 1,650 and China’s over 450 satellites in orbit. India’s share in the $440 billion global market is just 2%.

Graphic: Mint
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Graphic: Mint

How have the recent reforms helped?

The reforms announced in 2020 ensured that over 100 new companies have entered the sector. Some of them, such as Skyroot Aerospace, Dhruva Space, Digantara, Pixxel and Bellatrix Aerospace, have already tasted success. In 2022, these companies raised over $100 million which is more than what has been raised cumulatively till 2021.

What will ISRO’s role be?

ISRO, as per the space policy, will “focus primarily on research and development of new space technologies and applications, and for expanding the human understanding of outer space". India’s space programme will transition from ISRO-dominated to being ISRO-enabled. It has moved its commercial operations to NewSpace India Ltd, a public sector unit, and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) has begun regulating the space sector.

What do private companies say?

The policy has been received well. Private players, including startups, call it “forward looking.“ It lays down the role of ISRO, IN-SPACe and other entities. What excites them the most is the flexibility the policy allows given the rapid changes this sector typically sees, technologically. It permits case-by-case authorization or approval from IN-SPACe to engage in space activity even when it doesn’t align with the policy. That, they say, is critical for India to achieve its objective of becoming a space super power.

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