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Space Industry in India: Potential and Challenges – Explained, Pointwise

Introduction:

India’s space program is one of the most well-developed in the world. It has achieved numerous successes through its state-owned agency – Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Recently another feather in the cap was added with the launch of Brazil’s Amazonia-1 satellite last week from Sriharikota.

About the recent mission:
  • ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV-C51) rocket launched Brazil’s Amazonia-1 (an earth observation satellite) and 18 co-passenger satellites.
  • It was the first dedicated mission for New Space India Ltd (NSIL), the commercial arm of ISRO.
  • The mission was conducted under a commercial arrangement with Spaceflight Inc., USA.

Read MoreISRO successfully places Brazil’s “Amazonia-1 and 18 Satellites” in orbit (forumias.com)

India’s space industry: 
  • The sector has grown exponentially over the last six decades with considerable expansion in its scope and domain.
  • It diversified from simple mapping services in the 1960s, at present to diversified services:   
    • Design and development of launch vehicles
    • Development of satellites and related technologies for earth observation, telecommunication & broadband 
    • Entering the domain of navigation, meteorology, and space science
    • R&D in space sciences
    • Most recently – planetary exploration with MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission)
  • The success of the sector can be attributed to Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and other notable people. All of them believed in the potential of India’s Space sector.
  • The country spent around US$ 1.8 billion on space programs in 2019-20. 
  • The country on average launched 5-7 satellites per year in recent years while the figure for the US is around 19 satellites. Similarly, China launches approximately 34 satellites.
Initiatives in Space Sector:
  • Opening the Space Sector: The Government in June 2020 opened up the Space sector. It allowed the participation of the Indian private sector in the entire domain of space activities. This includes satellite creation, launches, and space-based services that were earlier not open to them.
  • Draft Space Activities Bill, 2017: The bill aims to promote and regulate the space activities of India. It focuses on encouraging the participation of private-sector agencies under the guidance and authorisation of the government through the Department of Space.
  • New Space India Limited (NSIL): It is a Central Public Sector Enterprise under the Department of Space that was established in 2019. It has been mandated to space-related products and services emanating from Indian Space Programme
    to global customers. It will enable the Indian industry to scale up a high-technology manufacturing base. 
  • Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe): It has been established for promoting industries and attracting private investment in the space sector.
  • Training and Collaboration: ISRO and its research centers have active programs with academic and research institutes across the country. They are also training personnel from numerous countries around the globe.
Opportunities for India’s Space Sector
  • Low Cost: The Indian space sector has the potential of launching space vehicles at a much lower cost. This was seen in Mars Orbiter Mission which was 10 times cheaper than western missions.
  • Good Record and Trust: India has so far launched 342 foreign satellites for 34 countries using its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle platform. This has developed a trust in Indian space potential in other countries.  
  • Presence of Budding Entrepreneurs: As per industry estimates, there are more than 40 start-ups working in India on space and satellite projects. It can complement the efforts of the government. 
  • Rising Demand in the Future: Technology innovations in the future will increase the need for higher bandwidth capacity, throughput speeds, improved radar, and thermal imaging. This can be readily met by strengthening the space sector.
  • Unrealised Potential: As per Satellite Industry Association Report (2020), the global space economy in 2019 was valued at US$ 366 billion. However, the Indian space economy is valued at US$ 7 billion, which is around 2 percent, signifying how much the sector can truly achieve.
Challenges For India’s Space Sector
  • Lower Spending: The funds allocated to the space sector are very less in comparison to other countries. The US spent 10 times and China 6 times more than India in the space sector in 2019-20.
  • Absence of a Clear Legislative Framework: The draft Space Activities bill was introduced way back in 2017 but hasn’t been passed yet.
  • Lack of robust Dispute Settlement Mechanism: This discourages private investment in the space sector. The void was seen in Antrix – Devas cancelled satellite deal. The Government of India owes nearly $1.2 billion to Devas Multimedia as per an order of a tribunal of the International Chamber of Commerce.
  • Brain Drain: India produces the best brains in the world but is unable to retain them. People emigrate from the country for better opportunities and careers that might hamper the development of the space sector.
  • Managing big constellations of satellites: Although India has a good potential to launch satellites, managing a huge number of satellites in space could be a challenging task in the future. This should be done keeping in mind the possibilities of a future space war.
Suggestions
  • The plan to set up an independent tribunal to adjudicate disputes among private space entities should be implemented promptly. 
  • The passage of the Space Activities Bill should also be done in order to give private players greater clarity and protection. This should involve proper consultation and discussions with the concerned stakeholders. 
  • The focus should be on aiding space start-ups to penetrate rural India and encourage youth to build careers in space applications and sciences.
  • NSIL should function more than a marketer of ISRO’s technologies. It should find newer business opportunities and expand the sector itself.
  • The country should also enhance spending towards the sector considering the huge future potential and robust returns on investment. 
  • The country must do more collaboration and research with pioneer countries like the US, Russia, etc. who are already managing big constellations of satellites. Further, programs like Mission Shakti (an anti-satellite weapon test) can help avoid future space wars. 
Conclusion:

Indian Space sector possesses huge untapped potential which can be realized with adequate policy measures by the government. This would boost the confidence of the private sector and deliver optimum results, thereby helping the country acquire the top spot in the global space industry.

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