India’s space programme is going the Nasa way, with the private sector being allowed to carry out end-to-end activities like building of rockets, satellites and providing launch services. This is a major reform in a country where the space development programme has all along been a government-controlled activity. Now, private companies will be made part of interplanetary missions of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The latest move will not only enable accelerated growth of the space sector but will also help the Indian industry play a major role in the global space economy. Till now, the role of private companies was restricted to making components for rockets. The space reform now puts the onus on the private sector to come up with innovations and funding. The government has now created an Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to hand-hold, promote and guide private industries in space activities through encouraging policies and a friendly regulatory environment. The IN-SPACe board will also have members from the industry, academia and the government. The new space policy, cleared by the Union Cabinet, allows the private sector to make use of assets and technical capabilities of Isro for a fee. This will create a win-win situation for all stakeholders. Over the years, space applications have expanded to new areas. Today, satellites are put to a variety of uses.
The global space business, which was worth $350 billion in 2018, is expected to touch $3.3 trillion by 2040. However, the value of India’s sales of space products and services now stand only at $1 billion, largely due to the reluctance to open up the sector for private participation. Indian industry’s share has been barely 3% in a rapidly growing global space economy. It is unable to compete because till now its role has been mainly that of suppliers of components and sub-systems. Indian industries do not have the resources or the technology to undertake independent space projects of the kind that US companies such as SpaceX have been doing or provide space-based services. The demand for space-based applications and services is growing exponentially within India, and Isro is unable to cater to this. The need for satellite data, imageries and space technology now cuts across sectors, from weather to agriculture and transport to urban development. In the past, there were just a few space-faring nations, but today countries like Luxembourg, the UAE and New Zealand are leading a new wave of space wannabes. Against this backdrop, the continued monopoly of Isro will leave India behind. An open and inclusive space sector will result in accelerated growth, innovations, job creation and will enable the Indian space industry to become a significant player in the global space economy.
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