Bang for the space buck

Lack of a specific law to regulate commercial space activities in India is resulting in a loss of investment opportunities in space technology

By Author  |  Dr V Balakista Reddy  |  Published: 28th Jul 2019  12:05 amUpdated: 27th Jul 2019  9:57 pm
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The Indian space venture started with a humble beginning in the early 1960s. The efforts were then confined to getting familiar with space technologies and developing technical and organisational infrastructure in order to develop satellites and satellite-launch vehicles. During the 70s, the effort was primarily geared towards carrying out research and development in a variety of scientific and engineering disciplines for launch vehicles and satellites.

We moved closer to realising the goal of self-reliance in the use of space technology for national development in the 80s. With the launch of the Bhaskara II, SLV-3 (Satellite Launch Vehicle) and APPLE (Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment, the first indigenous, experimental communication satellite) in the early 80s, the Indian space programme entered the operational stage to provide space services in communications, meteorology, and remote sensing and development of launch vehicles.

India entered the 90s with the launch of more ASLV (Advanced Satellite Launch Vehicle) and PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) launchers. In the new millennium, the effort was on sending revolutionary GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) and EDUSAT projects, which are but important milestones in India’s ambition of sending a spaceship to the Moon. In short, over the last five decades significant achievements have been made by the Indian space programme in the area of space technology.

Sarabhai’s Vision
Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme and vice-president and scientific chairman of the 1st Unispace Conference of 1968, while speaking at the Conference said: ‘There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the Moon or the planets or manned space flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.’

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Therefore, developments such as Mission on Mars, Chandrayaan-I, successful launch of 104 satellites and last week’s Chandrayaan-II have proved more than what Sarabhai had visualised then.

With the successful launch of 104 satellites on a single mission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) in 2017, India created a record, thereby breaking the previous record of Russia, which launched 37 satellites in 2014. This momentous achievement caught the attention of not just the country but also the world. India also earned the reputation of offering a reliable low-cost alternative to existing international players.

Chandrayaan-I
A decade ago, Chandrayaan-I was launched with the lowest budget compared with the Moon mission of other countries. It also marked the start of space business of India – a reason why then Isro chairman G Madhavan Nair stated after the launch that “Chandrayaan means India’s business in space. We can accept any contract from any country.” The year 1992 was important for space business of India because Isro established Antrix, its commercial arm. Nair was the first chairman of Isro who believed in going commercial unlike Sarabhai.

The spacecraft orbited around the Moon at a height of 100 km from the lunar surface for chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic mapping. It carried 11 scientific instruments built in India, the US, UK, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria. Chandrayaan–1 discovered traces of water on the Moon – a path breaking discovery in the world of space science. It also discovered water ice in the North Polar region of the Moon besides detecting magnesium, aluminium and silicon on the lunar surface.

Chandrayaan-II
Chandrayan-II is an indigenous mission. It aims to find more about the Moon, its completely unexplored section – the South Polar region. Through this effort, the aim is to improve our understanding of the Moon — discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole. These insights and experiences aim at a paradigm shift in how lunar expeditions are approached for years to come — propelling further voyages into the farthest frontiers.

Chandrayaan-II attempts to foster a new age of discovery, increase our understanding of space, stimulate the advancement of technology, promote global alliances, and inspire the future generation to explore. It will help us gain a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, comprehensive mineralogical analysis and a host of other experiments on the lunar surface.

Commercialisation of India’s Space
The Indian space programme has not only achieved considerable self-reliance in space technology for national development but also promotes its commercial utilisation. A mutually rewarding partnership between the Indian space programme and industry has been built over the past three decades.

Accordingly, programmes for partnership with the industrial sector are organised under four closely-linked fronts. These are: (i) technology transfers from the space programme to industry; (ii) technological consultancy to industry; (iii) utilisation of industry’s own technological expertise by the space programme; and (iv) services from the industrial sector.

Besides, national accomplishments, India could also get recognition in the international arena as one of the major space-faring nations in the world, which in turn opened up global opportunities and demand for Indian services. Antrix Corporation deals with the transfer of technology developed to the Indian industry and provides consultancy services. It also coordinates in the exchange of space hardware and software between Isro and industries involved in the space programme.

Privatisation of Space Industry
During the last three decades, increasing emphasis on reducing governmental budgets worldwide forced the world’s space-faring nations to reassess their civil space programme. Such action requires establishing close working arrangements between government and private industry which facilitate satellite communications, navigation and position location, remote sensing, data processing, support services, land infrastructure, etc. Developing countries like India are hard-pressed to allocate funds for these activities. Therefore, the need for privatisation of space activities deserves maximum attention in countries like India.

The space application sector witnessed tremendous developments with the active involvement of the private sector. There is a huge market to be tapped in India in the field of cable and satellite television. However, due to an inadequate legal framework, India is losing investment opportunities in the field of space technology.

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Need for Space Legislation
India, like many other countries, has not enacted any space legislation. Is it required to enact one? Has its absence impeded India’s space activities or posed problems in their pursuit? When there are countries, which do not have such legislation, why should India have one?

India is a party to all international space treaties, which form the main body of international space law. It has also played a significant role in the adoption of five sets of legal principles by the UN General Assembly Resolutions, which provide for the application of international law and promotion of international cooperation and understanding in space activities. It is also under an obligation to give effect to the various rules contained in these norms through the medium of appropriate legislation in the domestic field.

In India, space proliferation is moving ahead in a big way but there is no comprehensive or specific space law, which regulates the commercial activities of space. Space and space-related matters have been regulated not by one legislation but by legal rules belonging to different areas of the domestic law so far.

However, the time has come for the preparation of an appropriate legal framework, keeping in view the recent national and global developments — the active involvement of the private sector and commercialisation of space activities, and the agreements made nationally and globally with various agencies, governments, international and intergovernmental organisations.

On the domestic front, the public-private sector participation in various space programmes, cable and satellite TV revolution and various court judgments — all remind us of the need to have space legislation.

(The author is Registrar and Head, Centre for Aerospace and Defence Law, Nalsar University of Law, Hyderabad. [email protected])

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