The 20th-century space race between cold war rivals – the United States of America and the Soviet Union, was for dominating the final frontier. It was further fuelled by concerns for national security. Today, history is repeating itself. The only difference is that this time the race has more participants and includes deeper space exploration.
Countries which have opened their national space industry to private players are now enjoying a head-start in this race. India has also tightened its shoelaces for the race. The cabinet approved the establishment of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe). This move will boost the private sector’s participation in an entire range of space activities. It is also another step in the ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ campaign. Reports suggest IN-SPACe will be operational in 3-6 months. But how far will IN-SPACe be able to propel us in this race?
What is In-SPACe?
IN-SPACe is an autonomous nodal agency. It will form a new vertical under the Department of Space (DOS). It will act as a single-point interface between ISRO and everyone who wants to take part in space-related activities or use India’s space resources.
The primary role of the agency will be to permit and regulate the activities of the private sector in space. It will also hand-hold, promote and guide such activities by sharing its technical expertise as well as facilities. Independent Directorates will assess and coordinate the requirements of the private sector.
Why do we need to Privatise?
The outer space has been further viewed as a commercial and strategic frontier. During a briefing, the Secretary of the Department of Space (DOS) explained that privatisation will allow ISRO to divide more time and resources for R&D endeavours. Greater emphasis on the development of advanced technology, missions and capacity building will be possible. This, in turn, will help India match pace with other space-faring nations which already have key deeper space exploration projects in the pipeline for 2020.
Currently, the global space industry is worth US$ 350 Billion and comprises of the following segments:
- Rocket launch service, with a share of 2%
- Manufacturing of satellites, with a share of 5%
- Space application services, with a share of 45%
- Ground equipment, with a share of 48%
India’s share in this $350 billion sector is less than three per cent. The share will not improve if ISRO remains the sole player. Moreover, ISRO lacks the production capabilities required to meet the burgeoning demand for space-based services.
What are the Benefits of this Move?
Establishment of IN-SPACe will be beneficial in the following ways:
Creation of a Legal Framework Governing the Private Sector in the Space Industry
It will create a legal framework governing the private sector in the space industry. Domestic legislation for governing activities of the private sector was long overdue. The previous attempt was further made in 2017 with the Space Activities Bill. Even this proposal was late comparative to countries like the US which had already concretised their law in 2015 itself. But this bill had dug more holes than it filled. Moreover, the bill lapsed in the Lok Sabha itself. Thus, leaving the need for legislation high and dry. The proposed framework addresses the concerns raised in the previous attempt.
Effect to India’s International Commitments
This framework will give effect to India’s international commitments under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty (OST). Under this provision, state parties are responsible for their actions in space. This includes actions of both governmental as well as non-governmental agencies of that state.
Elimination of Significant Entry Barriers for Private Players
The establishment also aims to eliminate significant entry barriers for private players. These barriers include:
- high cost to enter the market;
- inability to raise funds due to investors’ concerns over the legality of private activities;
- lack of independent physical space infrastructure such as launch sites, etc.
IN-SPACe will help in sharing of technical and space assets of ISRO with private players. This will help space start-ups reduce the entry cost and address issues of physical space infrastructure. Moreover, legal certainty will attract private investments into the sector. Furthermore, the impending economic depression has made recycling of capital invested by the government in the space infrastructure all the more important. Sharing of ISRO’s assets will enable maximisation of the value derived from such assets.
IN-SPACE will foster synergies by linking Indian start-ups and technology entrepreneurs with nuclear research facilities through technology development and incubation centres.
Offloading of ISRO’s Routine Work
The entry of the private sector will offload ISRO’s ancillary functions and routine work. This will enable ISRO to focus its attention towards missions for deeper space exploration and development of advanced technologies.
An Insight into the Other Proposed Reforms
A new Indian National Space Promotion Board will be set up. It will strengthen the activities of the DOS. By taking decisions relating to non-governmental entities and private space entrepreneurs. One of the proposed reforms is the private sector representation on the board.
A new Navigation Policy is also being proposed. Suitable changes in Remote Sensing Data Policy, as well as SATCOM policy, are also on the anvil. These changes aim at aligning these policies to an open and inclusive space sector. The public sector undertaking of DOS i.e. New Space India Ltd. (NSIL) will be transformed from a supply-driven model to a demand-driven model. NSIL will be then strengthened and empowered to off-load operational activities of ISRO in the areas of launch vehicle & satellite production, launch services as well as space-based services. NSIL will execute these activities through Industry Consortiums.
Opportunities to undertake R&D activities and be co-traveller in advanced inter-planetary missions will be offered to the private industry through a series of ‘Announcement of Opportunities’. Opportunities in Human Space Flight Programme have already been announced.
How Far do these Reforms Take Us in Space Race 2.0?
This move brings India closer to its space race competitors in terms of the regulatory framework. IN-SPACe being an independent body will prevent conflict of interests between the private sector and ISRO. Such a feature is similar to the other space-faring nations such as the US. Incorporation of this feature will ensure a level playing field and further assist in unlocking the large potential of the industry.
Also, this move will help India reap synergistic benefits of privatisation of space. As a result, there will be fostering of innovation and prevention of brain-drain of innovative Indian minds. This, in turn, will help strengthen India’s dominance in outer space with advanced technology and capabilities.
While the reforms are much needed and welcome, they may not be enough. Private players in other countries enjoy a considerable advantage compared to their Indian equivalents. This is because similar reforms have been in place in competing jurisdictions since a while now. This has enabled private players to develop advanced technologies. For example, Space-X has developed individual launch capacity. Virgin Galactic is close to launching space-tourism. But the private sector in India is still in its nascent stage. However, there will be a need to take further steps to bridge this gap.
The introduction of an agency such as IN-SPACe is a contemporary and needed move. The framework looks very promising. It will propel the Indian Space Industry in the right direction. While the actual draft of this proposed framework is yet to be seen, this initiative will help harness the vast talent available in our country. The other reforms proposed will help integrate IN-SPACe in the existing legal framework. Though private players from other countries have developed advanced capabilities, Indian scientists have proven their mettle with programs like Mars Orbiter Mission in the past. All in all, this move will definitely help India climb higher on leader-board of Space Race 2.0.
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