When we think of space exploration, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is often the first organisation which comes to mind. Headquartered in Bengaluru, ISRO is the primary space exploration agency of the Indian Government. In 1969, ISRO was established from the INCOSPAR programme and later became part of the DOS (Department of Space) and the Space Commission—that were created in 1972. Since then, there’s been no looking back. Despite all the hurdles and drawbacks, ISRO has consistently proven itself as a pioneer in space exploration worth its salt, and has developed and pioneered unique and cost-effective technologies that have earned a reputation and universal recognition making it as one of the world’s leading space organisations (ranking one of the best in the world next to NASA).
From launching Aryabhatta, India’s first satellite in 1975, to the successful Mars Orbiter Mission named Mangalyaan in 2013, which made India the first country to reach Mars on its first attempt with the cost of only $76 million, lesser than the budget of movies like Gravity ($100 Million) and Interstellar ($176 Million) are some of the amazing feats of the Indian Space Agency. And now the Indian government is showing its interest in expanding the boundaries of the Indian space arena by recommended that private companies and the Indian corporate world collaborate with Govt agencies and scientific institutes. And he allowed to take a still active and bigger role in the space industry.
Partnering with Private sector
To revamp and augment the space Industry, the government is driving several key initiatives and is ready to launch a new space policy. The Indian government’s Department of Space (DOS) has sought to partner with the private sector in the country’s space industry to increase the use of space technology and expand the space economy. By switching from a “Supply Based Model” to a “Demand Based Model” and employing New Space India Limited (NSIL) as an intermediary for customer requirements and commitments, ISRO will assist DOS in this endeavour. Additionally, NSIL will acquire control of DOS’s operational launch vehicles, market launches, satellites, and other services.
Joining the link as narrated above, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently inaugurated the Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), a government agency aimed at promoting private investment and innovation in the space sector. PM Modi expressed hope and emphasised had Indian firms would emerge as leaders in the global space industry, similar to their success in the information technology sector. IN-SPACe will support the private sector and help it participate in building satellites, launching vehicles, carrying out launches, and providing space-based services.
Innovative space Ecosystem
The Indian government’s new space policy is envisaged to come into effect by early 2023 (the draft is already released), and it is expected to lead to the development of a vibrant and innovative space ecosystem in the country. The new space policy will allow for private sector participation in the space industry, with the Indian Space Research Organisation’s marketing arm facilitating commercial activities. It will also outline how non-government entities can work in the space sector and provide support for the private sector through the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe). The policy will focus on the use of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which are cheaper than traditional satellites, and will encourage the private sector to manufacture satellites for various applications such as agriculture, healthcare, urban development, disaster management etc. The global space economy is estimated to be worth $423 billion dollars, with India constituting 2-3 per cent of the related and underlying market. The government is sanguine to tap into the full potential of the sector and expects to have its own SpaceX-like start-ups within the next two years.
“Life loses half its interest if there is no struggle — if there are no risks to be taken” — Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose
The policy draft is under review before it can be officially and formally approved. Nonetheless, many of the provisions in the draft have already been implemented. This has allowed several start-ups to begin their operations without waiting for the final release of the policy. The policy has already attracted the attention of several start-ups, with the number of space start-ups in India increasing from just four in 2018 to over 250 in 2022. There are currently over 100 space start-ups in the country that have collectively raised over $245.35 million in funding.
One start-up that has already made a significant impact is Skyroot Aerospace. On 18th November, 2022, the Indian Space Research Organisation launched India’s first privately built rocket, called Vikram-S, from the Sriharikotala unchpad. The rocket was developed by Skyroot Aerospace (which became the first Indian private company to forge into outer space when its rocket reached an apogee of 89.5 km). Bellatrix, a Bengaluru-based aerospace start-up is working on developing low-cost propulsion systems for small satellites. The company has already raised $2 million in seed funding and plans to launch its first rocket by 2023. Satsure is another Indian start-up that is focused on developing small satellite platform. On November 26, 2022, the PSLV-C54 mission carried nanosatellites built by Indian start-ups Pixxel and Dhruva Space into space. The mission was a major milestone for both companies and has raised hopes that they will be able to make significant contributions to the development of the space industry in India.
The global space industry is currently valued at $400 billion and has the potential to become a $1 trillion industry by 2040, India is vying for a significant portion of the chunk by 2040. It is likely that the Indian space industry will have made significant progress by them. The country may have a robust space infrastructure, including multiple launch sites, a range of advanced rockets and satellites, and a skilled and experienced workforce by then. The current space policy shall take India on this path to glory.