Explained: Entry of Private Players in Indian Space Sector


Amid the nationwide lockdown and coronavirus outbreak, the Union Finance Minister of India has announced a ground-breaking initiative by opening up space and atomic energy sector to private players and referring to them as “fellow travellers”.

  • Recently, the SpaceX has created history by sending United States’ first-ever commercially built rocket and spacecraft into space and carrying astronauts to International Space Station (ISS).

Need of Private Players in Indian Space Missions

  • In the next decade or so, a new market called the ‘New Space’ market which will rapidly grow and will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
  • The Indian space start-ups should be excited as there is a report that nearly 17,000 small satellites will be launched in Low Earth Orbit by 2030.
  • The two BITS Pilani graduates who have founded Prixxels, is building a constellation of nano-satellites to provide global, real-time and affordable satellite imagery services.
  • Bellatrix Aerospace, a Bengaluru-based startup is offering novel “electric propulsion” systems, which have applications in the field of nano and micro-satellite propulsion.
  • Mumbai-based startup Manastu Space has developed a “green propulsion” system using hydrogen peroxide as fuel.
  • One of the many visible changes the Indian space tech ecosystem has witnessed is the emergence of small cube satellites and other small satellites coming up in large numbers across the world which provides a lot of opportunities to entrepreneurs and academicians to work on such technologies.

Advantages of Private Players in Space Missions

  • The private space businesses can provide hardware centric parks which will focus on building an ecosystem for SMBs and startups, which are into component and subcomponent manufacturing, and development.
  • Space Technology Application Development Ecosystem in the private space helps us to understand how to generate business in sectors like the downstream market. The main agenda is to understand how among many space applications like satellite data can generate some market value.
  • With the facilities and assets of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), private companies and startups will have an opportunity to enhance their capabilities while acknowledging their innovative space technology.
  • If the introduction of private players in the Indian Space programme is implemented properly, it will boost employment generation and enhance overall efficiency and decision-making.
  • It will reduce the cost of projects and launch time for the Indian private players and the space technology sector will become more competitive at the global level.
  • If geospatial data is made available to various users in the country in a liberalized manner, it will be of immense help in economic growth and successful implementation of many other projects launched by the government.

Challenges in Privatization of Indian Space Missions

  • The first and foremost issue that private players face during their research is the timely issuance of resources and funding.
  • The private players are challenged on the basis of trust issues by the government.
  • The head start to any space tech start-ups in India is heavily loaded by the current public procurement system.
  • There have numerous start-ups in India which have spent time in developing space related technologies but are unable to use ISRO’s available facilities for even testing their products because of the Indian regulations.

Steps taken by Government to Promote Privatization in Space Missions

  • The Finance Minister announced the welcome reforms in space sector by including the levelling of the playing field for private companies in satellites, launches and space-based services.
  • In 2000, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) launched the New Millennium Indian Technology Leadership Initiative under which CSIR gave very low-interest soft loans to early-stage startups, who explored radical ideas.
  • The government has introduced the draft Space Activities Bill in 2017 which has lapsed and it gives an opportunity to rewrite it with a bold perspective.
  • In 2019, the Kerala government inaugurated the country’s first space park as Kerala Space Park which aims to attract space tech startups and various stakeholders in the sector, to give them an insight into the Indian space tech ecosystem.

Measures to be adopted in increasing the role of Private Players in Space Missions

  • The government also called for introducing a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players and providing access to geospatial data and facilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • The government must provide an early support to the innovation and invention through adventure capital as well as risk-averse venture capital.
  • There is also need for government to develop trust in the private players working in space sector.
  • The government needs to invest through patient capital as innovations and inventions in space sector require long time.
  • The public-private partnership in the space sector should not be just in development but also in encouraging financing too.
  • There should be shift from lowest-cost-selection approach to lower total cost of ownership.
  • There is a need to create a robust space tech-startup national innovation ecosystem comprising incubators, accelerators, scalerators and mentors.
  • There is an urgent requirement of a law that allows private players to participate across the space value chain and not just bits of it.

Way Forward

  • The Prime Minister has provided an outline for post COVID-19 India through Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyaan and in order to build self-belief and trust, we must require bold policies which are coupled with determined actions, then we can certainly pole vault to a great new future.
  • The step taken by government towards public-private partnership in Indian space sector is being viewed as a paradigm shift in the space sector, and will enable private companies to play a role in inter-planetary and outer space explorations in future, apart from accessing facilities and services of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
  • A certain amount of democratisation of space technology with the participation of the private sector can ensure that the costs are kept low and increasing the number of stakeholders will also ensure more transparency and better accountability and regulatory practices.
  • If privatisation goes beyond offloading production and AIT (assembly, integration, testing) activities and involves inviting design tenders from the industry for building satellites and launch vehicles, then it would greatly open up the sector for private players.

Source: The Indian Express

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