After closely governing its space activities for over 50 years, India is set to let the private sector play an active role in its journey into outer space. The Indian Space Policy 2023 – the complete draft of which was released on Thursday – unveils the government’s plan to let private enterprises carry out end-to-end activities – from launching satellites and rockets into space to operating Earth stations.
The policy encourages private entities to not just design and develop launch vehicles, and reusable shuttles, but undertake commercial space activities. The industry can also establish and operate ground facilities – Satellite Control Centres (SCCs) and Earth stations for receiving telemetry from, tracking and command of any space objects.
However, IN-SPACe, the government’s autonomous body, will regulate all these activities, and remain the single-window agency for authorisation.
India has seen over 100 space start-ups since 2020 when it first opened the space sector to private companies. The government’s goal now is to establish India as a preferred service provider for any space services. The policy aims to achieve this by creating a “stable and predictable regulatory framework” and a level-playing field to all private players, said Union Minister of State Dr Jitendra Singh after the policy got the Cabinet nod on April 6.
Commercialisation Of Space-Tech, Data
- The strategy is to encourage and promote greater private sector participation in the entire value chain. The policy encourages industries to not just develop, but “commercialise technologies and applications enhancing the satellite navigation, communication and remote-sensing developed and provided by the government.”
- It also allows them to engage in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource. In fact, any private player engaged in such a process would be entitled “to possess, own, transport, use, and sell any such asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of India”, as per the proposed policy. The private sector will be permitted to undertake all IN-SPACe prescribed commercial space activities.
- The policy also illustrates the government’s intent to maximise the dissemination of data from ISRO’s remote-sensing satellites. While data with Ground-Sampling Distance (GSD) data of ≥5 meters will be made available free to all, any data of ≤5 meters will be given to private players at a “fair and transparent price.”
Level-Playing Field, Timely Clearances
The policy approved by the Cabinet on April 6 is yet to be tabled in the Parliament. But once it’s notified, it would also allow the industry to offer national and international space-based communication services, through self-owned or procured or leased communication satellites. It also opens doors for global collaborations, allowing the industry to not just use ISRO’s orbital resources but other non-Indian resources to establish satellites for communication services over India and outside India.
“The policy clearly spells out what the private sector can do should international entities wish to come to India and collaborate with Indian private players, not just for commercialization but also for developing next-generation technologies,” said Kranthi Chand who leads Strategy & Special Projects for Hyderabad-based start-up Dhruva Space.
Much-Needed Clarity On Roles
Stakeholders also lauded the policy for delineating the roles of each of the involved entities, whether government or private. While IN-SPACe will work with industry, issue guidelines and provide timely clearances to promote ease of doing business, NSIL will be responsible for commercialising new technologies. With routine launch activities taken care of by the private sector, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will focus mainly on research and development to maintain India’s edge through missions like Gaganyaan.
“The clarity of various roles marks a yellow-brick road for Indian private companies who not only wish to commercialize their products, but also develop new technologies. We are pleased to see that DoS, ISRO, NSIL and IN-SPACe would work closely with private Indian Space entities, and also step in to address risks when necessary,” said Kranthi Chand who leads Strategy & Special Projects for Hyderabad-based start-up Dhruva Space.
According to the Indian Space Association (ISpA) chief Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt (Retd.) the policy is ‘forward-looking’ and will be a catalyst for developing a globally competitive space ecosystem in India.
“It will offer opportunities to the private sector to engage in all aspects of the space industry – from setting up and operating space objects and ground-based assets, to offering related services like communication, remote sensing, and navigation. We are confident that IN-SPACe and DoT will work speedily to ensure necessary clearances for private players in India,” he said.
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