Waving his wand of reforms across all sectors of the Indian economy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has now shifted his attention to the booming space sector of the country. Reportedly, the PM on Monday (October 11) via video conferencing launched the Indian Space Association (ISpA) — an organisation that will reportedly act as a single-window and independent agency on matters related to space technology.
ISpA’s founding members include OneWeb, Bharti Airtel, Mapmyindia, Walchandnagar Industries, and Ananth Technology Limited among others. During the launch, the Prime Minister said the government is moving ahead with a clear policy regarding public sector enterprises and is opening most of these sectors to private enterprises where the government is not required.
Speaking at the launch of Indian Space Association. https://t.co/PWnwsL54Z8
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 11, 2021
ISpA will participate and work with ISRO and others on the issue of policy around space technology and domain. It will focus on capacity building, space economic hubs and incubators in India.
Private sector’s participation in the Indian space program
In India, despite the roaring success of ISRO – a government entity, the role of the private sector has been restricted to manufacturing and fabrication of rockets and satellites. 95 per cent of the Space exploration market relates to satellite-based services and ground-based systems. Consequently, the Indian industry contributes only three per cent to the growing Space economy.
However, slowly but surely, the Modi government has set out to change the lopsided numbers. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had last year remarked that the private sector will be given a bigger role in the country’s space sector, including in satellites, launches, and space-based services.
Space X, Blue Origins — some of the private space entities
Around the world, private players are playing a greater role in Space programs. In the United States, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has made massive strides and is actively collaborating with NASA. Last year, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 became the first crew rotation mission with four astronauts flying on a commercial spacecraft and the first including an international partner. This was the first time that a private company put human beings into orbit.
Similarly, Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer and sub-orbital spaceflight services owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, too is eyeing a major lunar mission. In July, Jeff himself made a short journey to space, in the first crewed flight of his rocket ship, New Shepard.
Need the private sector to unlock ISRO’s full potential
In India, the problem of the Space market is not that of demand, but that of supply. In fact, the demand for space-based applications and services is growing rapidly, partly because the ISRO has made gargantuan strides.
It is one of the few PSUs that has lived up to the expectations with cost-effective lunar and Mars missions, the development of Anti-Satellite Technology (ASAT), and Project NETRA for enhancing India’s space security. Simultaneously, ISRO has also managed to launch a number of foreign satellites bringing thousands of crores of revenue to the government.
But the burden is steadily mounting on ISRO. It cannot solely take care of the commercial and scientific side of space exploration. Thus, if India wants to unlock new frontiers in space, it needs the active participation of the public and private sectors. The government so far has started on a positive note and it will need to be seen how the private sector responds to the open arms of the Modi administration.