How private sector can spur commercial activity in sapce biz
A new frontier – the Indian Space Association - ISpA is taking shape to help build the space industry ecosystem in India. It’s an industry body set up last October to act as the voice of the growing private space industry focused on building space technologies and capabilities in India that could compete internationally.
A new frontier – the Indian Space Association - ISpA is taking shape to help build the space industry ecosystem in India. It's an industry body set up last October to act as the voice of the growing private space industry focused on building space technologies and capabilities in India that could compete internationally. Policy advocacy is the main aim of the new industry body besides supplementing the government's efforts towards making India a global leader in commercial space-based activities.
ISpA is represented by leading domestic and global corporations that have advanced capabilities in space and satellite technologies. The members of the organisation include government bodies such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and private telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel's One Web, Tata Group's Nelcom, L&T, MapMyIndia, Walchandnagar Industries and Alpha Design Technologies. Other core members include Godrej, Hughes India, Ananth Technology Limited, Azista-BST Aerospace Private Limited, BEL, Centum Electronics, and Maxar India.
According to ISpA, there are around 30 Indian private firms that are in the space business, focused on different aspects. Some are designing and building satellites, others are developing next-generation rocket engines using 3-D printing technology and so on. ISpA said it would engage with stakeholders across the ecosystem for the formulation of an enabling policy framework that fulfils the government vision of leading commercial space exploration. "ISpA will also work towards building global linkages for the Indian space industry to bring in critical technology and investments into the country to create more high skill jobs," the organisation said.
Comprehensive space policy soon
A comprehensive space policy allowing the private sector in the space domain is expected to come out in March by the Government of India. The new policy will define policies, regulations and finances related to space communication, remote sensing, exploratory missions, transfer of technology and international collaborations for the private sector. Some of the technology which has been developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) now be handed over to the private sector to develop commercially.
Private sector to spur commercial activity in space domain
Being an advocate and enabler for public and private sector engagement, ISpA will support the government's vision of seif-reliant India while also becoming a leader in space - which is "the next growth frontier for mankind." It will be an independent, "single-window" agency that will open up the Indian space sector to the private sector as well as startups.
The current global space economy is worth about $360 billion, according to estimates released by the ISRO. The global space industry will grow to $1 trillion by 2040. But Indian space economy accounts for only about 2.6 per cent. India aspires to capture 10 per cent or more of the global market share. This is where the organisation could step in. It will work to engage with stakeholders, policies and also build relations with the international space industry.
In India, the space-based communications network has taken off with several Indian and international companies betting on it as the next frontier to provide high-speed and affordable Internet connectivity to inaccessible areas as well. This includes SpaceX's StarLink, Sunil Bharti Mittal's OneWeb, Amazon's Project Kuiper, US satellite maker Hughes Communications, etc.
OneWeb is a satellite operator, for example, is building its initial constellation of 648 low-earth orbit satellites and has already put 322 satellites into orbit and the rest will be launched by mid-next year. Its services are expected to begin this year in the Arctic region including Alaska, Canada, and the UK. By late 2022, OneWeb will offer its high-speed, low latency connectivity services in India and the rest of the world.
Similarly, a start-up - Pixxel is looking at the constellation of 36 plus satellites and mini-satellites of cutting-edge hyperspectral earth imaging satellites waiting to be launched soon. The first two satellites of this company hope to launch this year and another year or so the whole constellation will be up.
As a satellite service provider, Tata Group-owned Nelco has heavily invested in space technology. Others are developing next-generation rocket engines using 3-D printing technology which will be more cost-effective to be launched from India. Other start-ups are looking at electrical propulsion systems for satellites which itself is a revolution and others are working on green fuels for rockets to go up from India for the world, according to IspA.
Era of transformation of space domain
India, indeed, has made significant strides in space exploration over time, state-run ISRO has been at the centre and front of this progress. Several private sector companies, however, have shown an interest in India's space domain, with space-based communication networks coming to the fore.
The lower end of ISRO activities will go to the private sector as pre-dominance of ISRO will continue until the private sector brings in something like a disruptive technology like Elon Musk has brought reusable rocket technology to NASA, observed Lt Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt, Director General of ISpA. Although, the apex body will ensure 'Ease of Doing Business and Policy Stability' besides easy availability, accessibility, affordability and efficient utilization of space resources. It will encourage and facilitate all space domain activities such as satellite communication services, application development and services in space-based application development in navigation, geospatial and remote sensing. It includes satellite broadband connectivity and even launching and manufacturing rockets. Moreover, ISpA will enhance and engage with global institutions on space-related issues including policy matters.
The objective of this space association is that it is an industry body that will represent the entire sector. It is not only satellite operators and satellite service providers. It could be manufacturers, R&D players, launch vehicles, payloads, ground and space control system developers.
World over, space is a strategic matter and maximum use of space in the globe is driven by governments and militaries having access to space technology. Consequently, space continues to be a strategic domain in modern warfare scenarios. Space and cyber are the two dimensions that provide an edge to any military to win battles. More so, all technologies using space be it communication, position, navigation and timing (PNT) or space, situation awareness (SSA) – all are dual used technologies. Hopefully, Indian private companies and startups will bring pathbreaking innovations like the West and the US space market. A significant step has been taken in right earnest to strengthen the domestic space sector.
(Author is a journalist who writes on defence, strategic affairs and technology)