The Indian Space Programme, which made its humble beginning in early 1960s, in its journey of over five-and-half decades, has made commendable progress in achieving its then conceived goals of being a self-reliant end-to-end programme and contributing to national development. Today, as one of the six major space-faring nations in the world, India is credited with achievements of having realised a range of satellites, launch vehicles, and a large number of applications that cater to developmental activities benefiting the society at large.
In this saga, the key executive arm of the government, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)/Department of Space, Indian industry and academia have been partners; understandable, the very nature of core space activities being capital-intensive and low-volume from business perspective, participation of the domestic industry in space sector was largely as subordinate, carrying out mostly built-to-print type of work.
Historically, space programmes, elsewhere too, had begun as national programmes, handled mostly by respective governments. It is the enhanced aspirations, strategic and civilian requirements, technological advancements in core-space and related areas – and all these surging against time in this modern era of globalisation – that have, in recent times, made the space sector highly amenable for commercial exploitation.
In this backdrop, the most recent structural reforms for India’s space sector unveiled by the government presents tremendous encouragement to country’s space industry. The government has specifically sought to boost participation of the private sector in space activities stating that private sector would be a ‘co-traveller in India’s space sector journey’, through enabling of: (i) a level playing field for private companies in satellites, launches and space-based services; (ii) a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players; (iii) the use of ISRO facilities and other relevant assets of the government by private sector for improving their capacities; (iv) opening up future projects for planetary exploration, outer space travel etc., also for private sector; and (iv) liberal geo-spatial data policy for making remote-sensing data available to tech-entrepreneurs.
In fact, the domestic space industry is waiting for the government to come out with detailed procedural guidelines on the proposed reforms for the space sector. With the administrative mechanisms – in place, and those being put-in-place, (i) the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) – for ensuring a level playing field for private companies, enabling use of government-created space infrastructure, hand-holding, promoting and guiding private industries in related activities through encouraging policies and amicable regulatory environment; (ii) IN-SPACe and the young PSU under Department of Space, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), together bringing a demand-driven atmosphere for space assets and services in the country; (iii) enhanced cap on FDI for space sector announced by the government promoting avenues for newer partnerships between foreign space companies and domestic industry; together, should be able to see in near-future: (i) creation of additional jobs in the country in this high-tech area of space; (ii) best of space technologies, on-par with those in developed world, becoming a practice in the country, both in civilian and strategic domains; (iii) making enhanced contributions to national development inter alia, in areas such as education, healthcare, e-empowerment, natural resources management, monitoring of environment and disaster risk reduction; and (iii) equally important, Indian industry capturing a significant part of the huge global space market, and contributing wealth creation – all under the national goal of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’; contributing towards $5 trillion Indian economy as the goal set by Prime Minister Narendra Modiji.
In this endeavour, the role of FICCI, through its sectoral committee on space, will be significant in outlining to government and stakeholders – the roadmap, vision for growth, suggestions for improvements and catalyse the ease of doing business by private players in the space sector.
The author is Co-Chairman, FICCI Space Committee.