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Digital Tech, Private Sector Participation to Boost India’s Space Sector

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The Government of India is bringing in reforms to allow private enterprises to participate in end-to-end space activities and help achieve the country’s goal of enhancing its share in the global economy. The government officials also highlight the importance of space robotics and artificial intelligence in the space domain.

“India is revising its existing policies and is also in the process of bringing in new ones to increase industry participation in the space sector,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr K. Sivan said, via a video message during the inaugural session on ‘Future of Space-International Participation and Collaborations’ at The India Pavilion, Expo 2020 Dubai.

He emphasized that the recent reforms in the sector has ensured that the role of the private sector has evolved from being just suppliers to partners in the process. He also highlighted that space is one of the significant areas that India is looking at for international cooperation.

“I hope space cooperation will further strengthen with commercial and technological collaborations,” said Sivan, adding that Indian industry has to play a big role in the space sector globally. India is planning to boost the space sector in the global market.”

With an aim to make the country an economic space hub in the future, it also recently launched a new industry body, the Indian Space Association (ISpA), an industry body that is made up of space and satellite companies from the Indian space domain that will act as the “collective voice of the Indian Space industry.”

The members of ISpA include government bodies like Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) and Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe). Its founding members include Bharti Airtel, Larson & Toubro, Nelco (Tata Group), OneWeb, Mapmyindia, Walchandnagar Industries and Alpha Design Technologies.

Other members include Godrej, Hughes India, Ananth Technology Limited, Azista-BST Aerospace Private Limited, BEL, Centum Electronics, Maxar India.

ISpA will support the government’s vision of Atmanirbhar India while also becoming a leader in space – which is “the next growth frontier for mankind.” It will be an independent, “single-window” agency that will open up the Indian space sector to the private sector as well as start-ups.

The current space industry is about USD 360 billion but India’s presence accounts for only about two percent. ISRO says it has the “potential to capture nine percent of the global market share by 2030,”  PM Narendra Modi said last week while launching the industry body.

This is where the organization could step in. It will work to engage with stakeholders, policies and also building relations with the international space industry.

Modi also said that the government’s approach to space reforms is based on four pillars – freedom of innovation to the private sector, government as an enabler, preparing the youth for the future and the space sector as a resource for the progress of the common man.

Sivan said that the government is open to inviting private players in the space sector and ISRO is tying up with start-ups and industries. “India is focusing on international collaborations, including bilateral and multilateral partnerships,” he said.

AIIn the recent past, the ISRO has also joined hands with Niti Aayog, and Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) to encourage space start-ups in the country. However, Sivan emphasized on the need to make outer space safe and that it is a collective responsibility of the government and non-government agencies to ensure that.

Dr. Sam Dayala Dev, Director, ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU), highlighted the importance of space robotics and artificial intelligence in the space domain. He also informed that Gaganyaan mission envisages humanoid flying uniquely unlike other robots where they get assembled in space.

Experts point out that the role of startups will be crucial in this journey. For startups to succeed, they must either reinvent existing technology to cause a disruption in the existing domain, generate new technologies and ideas into the sector, or use innovative ideas to put existing products or projects to new uses.

Highlighting the challenges for startups in the sector, Rohan M Ganapathy, CEO & CTO, Bellatrix Aerospace, India said that the gestation period in space sector is very high and hence to make business sense, there is a lot of priority investment that must be put in first. To attract investment, he stated that before approaching investors, “Space products must have end-use on the ground.” Commenting on the inherent risks in the sector, he said, “If something fails in space, it fails. You can’t go to space to service or fix it.”  

Diego Nodar, COO and Co-Founder, Alén Space added, “The first step is bringing your business model to orbit and validating it would be the minimum viable product. You must be able to provide value at least to a group of users and get feedback from them, then go for the funding you need to scale up and transform your start-up in a stable and sustainable company.”

India’s growing space sector has immense opportunities for industry and startup companies, and the entry of private entities will continue to play an important role in the changing global space landscape, according to Umamaheshwaran R, Scientific Secretary, ISRO.

He added that by supporting the investments from private sector, India would be able to contribute significantly to the USD 360 billion invested in the Space Sector globally. India is expected to contribute about USD 40-50 Billion by 2025.

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