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India’s Space Sector Reforms: A Catalyst for Commercial and Military Innovation

The global space industry is rapidly evolving into one of the most lucrative and dynamic sectors. With a valuation of US$360 billion in 2018, the space industry is projected to experience a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 5.6%, reaching an estimated value of US$558 billion by 2026. This growth is driven by the escalating demand for nano-satellites, reusable launch vehicle systems, and next-generation satellite technologies, propelled by significant investments by nations like the US, China, Russia, and the European Union. Countries such as Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, and South Korea are also contributing to this momentum by procuring advanced satellite systems for various applications spanning weather forecasting, agriculture, transportation, urban development, and more.

Impressive Strides of India’s Space Endeavors

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), India’s premier space agency, has achieved remarkable milestones in its journey. Since the launch of its first satellite, Aryabhata, by the Soviet Union in 1975, ISRO has achieved significant progress. In 1980, the Rohini satellite marked the first successful deployment into orbit by an indigenous launch vehicle, SLV-3. Subsequently, ISRO developed the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for polar orbits and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) for geostationary orbits, which launched numerous communication and Earth observation satellites. In January 2014, ISRO used an indigenous cryogenic engine CE-7.5 in a GSLV-D5 launch of the GSAT-14. Notable achievements include the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter in 2008, the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013, and the successful launch of 104 satellites in a single rocket in 2017, setting a world record. Satellite navigation systems like GAGAN and IRNSS have been deployed.

India’s Stellar Odyssey: From Ground to Galaxy

Looking Beyond Earth’s Horizon

India’s space program has extended its reach to the Moon and Mars. Chandrayaan-1 discovered lunar water in 2008, while the Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013 made India the first Asian nation to successfully orbit Mars on its maiden attempt. Additionally, ISRO’s GSLV-Mk III, launched in 2017, and placed communications satellite GSAT-19 in orbit. With this launch, ISRO became capable of launching 4-ton heavy satellites into GTO. On 22 July 2019, ISRO launched its second lunar mission Chandrayaan-2 to study the lunar geology and the distribution of lunar water.

India catching up to China’s Space Leaps and Global Leadership

China has emerged as a global leader in the space sector, surpassing India in various aspects. Notably, China boasts the second-largest number of operational satellites and consistently exceeds the US in annual satellite launches. China’s plans for a space station similar to the ISS, successful moon and Mars missions, and advancements in space technology underscore its substantial progress. China’s capability to launch astronauts into space, lunar and interplanetary missions, and initiatives like the Beidou navigation system demonstrate its prowess.

Remarkably, China is setting up a space station similar to the International Space Station (ISS).  Tianzhou-6: This cargo spacecraft was launched on May 10, 2023, and docked with the Tiangong space station on May 15. The Tianzhou-6 mission delivered supplies and equipment to the Tiangong space station, including food, water, and fuel.

Recently China has launched three astronauts into orbit to begin occupation of the country’s new space station. Shenzhou-16: This crewed spacecraft was launched on June 5, 2023, and docked with the Tiangong space station on June 10. The Shenzhou-16 mission is the first of two crewed missions to the Tiangong space station in 2023.  The three men – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – are to spend three months aboard the Tianhe module some 380km (236 miles) above the Earth. China has so far undertaken six human space missions, considered a major feat achieved only by the US and Russia so far. India is planning Gaganyaan, its first attempt at sending its astronauts to space in 2021 or 2022.

China plans to undertake more Moon missions in the future, including a possible crewed mission in the 2020s. By way of response, a joint India-Japan lunar mission to the Moon’s south pole is being planned for 2023. This would involve landing a rover that would conduct a series of scientific experiments, an operation quite similar to India’s failed Chandrayaan-2 mission.

Chandrayaan-3 is the third and most recent Indian lunar exploration mission under the
It consists of a lander named Vikram and a rover named Pragyan similar to Chandrayaan-2. Its propulsion module would act like an orbiter. The mission was launched on July 14, 2023, by a GSLV Mk III rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh.
The lander and rover  landed near the lunar south pole region on August 23, 2023.

China  has already launched the complete  Beidou system consisting of 35 satellites, which removes China’s reliance on the US GPS system. India, on the other hand, has a much smaller version of the GPS called the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), with an operational name of NavIC. The IRNSS constellation, consisting of eight satellites, provides coverage over India as well as the region extending up to 1500 km from its borders. China has led the world in rocket launches in recent years, though its space industry relies heavily on the public sector and military.

Mylswamy Annadurai, Space Scientist also known as Moon Man of India,  said, “India’s space program is doing well and there are various areas such as Remote Sensing, Space Exploration where India is doing much more than China. He further added that, “In the Mars Mission also India succeeded in its first attempt itself in comparison to China. The only difference between India and China Space Programs is the budget allocation and also number of professionals working in the respective countries. In India, only 18000 people are working in the space program as compared to more than 2 Lac in China.”

Ambitious future endeavors include the Unified Launch Vehicle, Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, reusable launch vehicle, human spaceflight missions, a space station, interplanetary probes, and solar spacecraft missions.

ISRO to develop futuristic technology as space race intensifies

ISRO organized the DTDI-Technology-Conclave- 2021, a futuristic and disruptive technology summit aimed at unlocking potential technologies in the space sector. The Directorate of Technology Development and Innovation or DTDI is a technology development wing of ISRO.

ISRO, India’s space agency, organized the DTDI-Technology-Conclave-2021, a summit focused on futuristic and disruptive technologies in the space sector. The Directorate of Technology Development and Innovation (DTDI), an arm of ISRO, spearheaded this initiative.

Dr. K Sivan, the chairman of ISRO, highlighted an array of forward-looking technologies discussed during the conclave. These technologies include hack-proof communication systems, self-vanishing satellites, humanoid robots, space-based solar power, intelligent satellites, AI-based space applications, and more.

ISRO is actively addressing concerns about space debris and environmental impact. Dr. Sivan explained plans for rockets to incorporate self-consuming technology, eliminating waste and space debris by using materials that burn up along with motors after launch.

Another innovative concept presented is the development of self-destructing satellites. These satellites would have a ‘kill button’ mechanism to terminate their operation at the end of their lifespan, contributing to space sustainability.

Additionally, the application of self-healing materials was discussed to address defects that can occur during rocket launches, potentially correcting these issues autonomously.

As the global space race escalates, ISRO’s pursuit of futuristic technologies demonstrates its commitment to advancing space exploration while considering environmental and operational challenges.

India’s Response and Reforms

Recognizing the need to expand its role in the space economy, India’s government has initiated transformative reforms. The establishment of New Space India Limited (NSIL) in 2019 marked a significant step, allowing ISRO to focus on research and development while NSIL markets and commercializes ISRO’s technologies. The creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) further accelerates private sector participation by providing access to ISRO’s infrastructure and expertise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commercialization of Indian Space

Experts see shifting ownership and operations from government-built-and-owned to commercial can drive innovation,  lower the cost and  the risk for space access. For example, US is planning to step up its space rocket launches in 2020  an increase driven largely by private sector companies like SpaceX. SpaceX, which launched the fourth cluster in its high-speed internet satellite constellation Starlink is expected to send astronauts to the ISS for the first time this year. But 2019 also saw the rise of a smaller American company, Rocket Lab, which has completed 10 launches since 2018 using small rockets that took off in New Zealand.

 

To enable India to expand its footprint in the $360 billion space market, The Central government has approved the opening of the key space sector for private participation in a cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.This will satisfy the need for greater dissemination of space technologies, better utilisation of space resources, and increased requirement of space-based services. The government said the move will free up India’s premier space agency ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) to focus on research and development while providing opportunities to expand India’s space exploration and technology through private participation.

 

Large corporations like Larsen & Toubro, Godrej and Tata have long been vendors to the Indian space programme. Thanks to their long association with the Department of Space (DoS), they possess testing infrastructure, manufacturing capabilities, assembly lines and experience working on designs of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). But space manufacturing is a tiny fraction of their total industrial output, as most of their contracts were made-to-order, with no scope for innovative, independent inputs.

 

India took its first-ever step in the same direction when the Indian government created the New Space India Limited (NSIL) back in March 2019 to ramp up industry participation in India’s space programmes.  It will be public sector company that would serve as a marketing arm of ISRO. Its main purpose is to market the technologies developed by ISRO and bring it more clients that need space-based services. ISRO explains, “The role of NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), a CPSU under DOS is being re-defined to transform the approach of the supply-driven model to demand-driven model for space-based services. Essentially, what that means is that instead of just marketing what ISRO has to offer, NSIL would listen to the needs of the clients and ask ISRO to fulfil those. This change in NSIL’s role, Sivan said, was also part of the reforms that have been initiated in the space sector. NSIL will be 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.”

 

India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C51 (PSLV-C51) rocket loaded with 19 satellites from Brazil, the US and India lifted off from the rocket port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in Feb 28, 2021. This was the 53rd mission for the PSLV rocket and marks the first dedicated PSLV commercial mission for New Space India Limited, an Indian government company under the Department of Space and the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organization.

 

PSLV-C51  successfully places Amazonia-1, an optical earth observation satellite from Brazil. Amazônia-1 is an Earth observation satellite and is equipped with an optical sighting wide imaging system consisting of a camera with three bands in the visible spectrum and one band in the near-infrared. It carries an observational field of view of 850 km with 60 meter resolution, has a launch mass of 700 kg, and is designed to operate for four years. Given Amazônia-1’s relatively small mass compared to the PSLV rocket’s capability, additional upmass was available on the mission, with that space partially filled by 18 co-passengers, including 12 SpaceBEEs, SAI-1 Nanoconnect-2, Sindhu Netra, UNITYsat, and SDSat.

 

Recently, the Government of India has created the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), an independent nodal agency under the Department of Space. The organization  will assess the needs and demands of private players, including educational and research institutions, and, explore ways to accommodate these requirements in consultation with ISRO. IN-SPACe will act as a national nodal agency to hand-hold and promote private endeavours in the space sector and for this ISRO will share its technical expertise as well as facilities.

 

This will be great enabler for Indian industries who presently do not have the resources or the technology to undertake independent space projects of the kind that US companies such as SpaceX have been doing, or provide space-based services. Existing ISRO infrastructure, both ground- and space-based, scientific and technical resources, and even data are planned to be made accessible to interested parties to enable them to carry out their space-related activities. Private companies, if they wanted, could even build their own launchpad within the Sriharikota launch station, and ISRO would provide the necessary land for that, Sivan said.

 

The priority for the year 2021 will be to usher in increased space sector reforms by putting in place a permanent Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) and other sectoral policies, said K. Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space (DoS). Sivan is also the Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Space Commission. The IN-SPACe is the regulator for the private sector space industry players in India. It would also provide a level playing field for private companies to use Indian space infrastructure.

 

IN-SPACe will have its own independent directorates for technical, legal, safety and security, and monitoring activities, as well as an activities promotion unit to assessing private players’ requirements and coordinate activities. ISRO says, “An open and inclusive space sector will result in accelerated growth, job creation, as well as innovations and, will enable Indian Space Industry to be a significant player in the global space economy.

 

 

It’s an excellent initiative and has come at the right time. Right now, India’s contribution in the $360 billion space economy is just 3%. The reforms will bring drastic changes in the space sector. Second, the requirement for space-based applications has increased manifold. With the implementation of the government’s digital programme, the demand for such applications will explode in the near future, which Isro won’t be able to fulfil alone. Therefore, PM Modi’s initiative to allow bigger participation of private players will help meet the country’s requirement for such space-based applications effectively and efficiently, said Isro chairman K Sivan, who’s also the secretary of the department of space.

 

This move will further boost the ISRO’s existing tieups with 150 companies compared to NASA which has tie-ups with over 375 companies. As Sivan explains: Till now, private players or a consortium of companies had been making and supplying components of rockets and satellites to Isro. Now, private companies can produce their own satellites and rockets and use Isro’s launch facility to launch them for a fee. So, the private players will be involved in a project from start to finish. This will spur commercialisation of satellite and rocket manufacturing and revolutionise the entire process, which till now was confined to ISRO. Students can make mini-satellites and can launch them from Isro facilities and we can give them a concession. We may also allow a free launch on a case-to-case basis, he further said.

 

Privatization of US Space industry is also contributing to it’s space security. US President Donald Trump has launched a new Pentagon command focused on warfare in space.  The primary aim of establishing a sixth armed service—the others being the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy—is to accelerate the development and deployment of new technologies for space warfighting, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters. The U.S. Space Force will be far smaller than the other military services but way more dependent on technology to do its job. While the Space Force will develop satellites and other technologies in-house, it also plans to follow the NASA playbook and team up with the private sector, said Col. Eric Felt, head of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Space Vehicles Directorate.

 

The privatization of Indian space sector will also provide many opportunities for improving  space capabilites for military.  For example it may provide oppurtunities to enhance its Space situational awareness (SSA),  the foundational element of space security, that entails keeping track of all natural and artificial space objects, energy and particle fluxes and understanding how the space picture is changing over time.  It may enhance the private sector participation in development of comprehensive SSA that requires  large network of radars and electro-optical sensors.

 

To date, the DoS has also come out with three draft policies—Draft Space-Based Communication Policy of India 2020 (Spacecom Policy-2020), Draft Space-Based Remote Sensing Policy and Revised Technology Transfer Policy Guidelines—to enable the private sector to play a greater role in the space field.

 

A policy for launch vehicles or rockets, space exploration and also a comprehensive Space Act will also be announced, Sivan had said earlier. According to him the other priority areas for 2021 will be the Gaganyaan mission (India’s human space mission), third moon mission-Chandrayaan-3, development of high thrust launcher, advanced satellites, electrical propulsion for satellites, realisation of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV).

 

The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the newly created space regulatory body, has received at least 26 proposals from Indian and foreign firms within, months of government opening up the space sector, reports Times of India. The proposals range from approval for ground stations, setting up satellite constellations to making and launching satellites, launch vehicles and providing applications.

 

Private players, including start-ups, are waiting for the fine print of the new guidelines to come out. In particular, they are keenly watching out for what it says about IP rights. Currently, very few Indian companies, even the big ones that supply to ISRO, own the IP of the products they supply. ISRO owns all the patents to the technologies involved. The private sector mostly functions as job workers and contract manufacturers.

 

Sivan offered tantalising glimpses of what the policy may offer when he told ToI, another leading Indian daily: “We are going on full steam now. Foreign firms can set up facilities to make satellites and launch vehicles here, set up ground stations and use our spaceports as long as they do so through FDI.”

 

Several foreign companies have already approached the government in this regard. For example, KSAT, a leading Norway-based telecommunications provider, and UK-based OneWeb, in which Indian telecom major Bharti Airtel has a stake, want to set up ground stations in India.  UAE’s Archeron Group and Norway’s Kongsberg Satellite Service (KSAT) have also sent their proposals to the IN-SPACe. While AWS has sought permission for “enabling private space business by making available gateway ground stations as a service”, the OneWeb has requested to set up a small satellite constellation and provide services. Meanwhile, the Archeron Group wants assistance for the launching of small satellites and KSAT wants to set up ground stations.

 

“OneWeb will have the world’s largest constellation (of satellites) in low-earth orbit. We will have 648 satellites covering the earth and testing will begin next year. We desire to get permission to use satellites here and we’ve identified areas in north, south, east and west for ground stations to start delivering services once the constellation is complete,” Bharti Airtel Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal told ToI.

 

Among the 24 Indian proposals, Tata’s NELCO has sought support for technology demonstration of Low-Earth Orbit network services, while L&T wants to “undertake end-to-end role in the small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV).” Besides, many startups including Astrome Technologies, Pixxel, Dhruva Space from Bengaluru, Agnikul Cosmos from Chennai and Skyroot Aerospace from Hyderabad have sought permissions for satellite production, space-based applications, development and launching of launch vehicles. Delhi-based MapmyIndia has requested approval for providing services while Bengaluru-based Alpha Design has sought technology for small satellites.

 

Besides firms, several institutions including Mangaluru’s Srinivas Institute of Technology UnitySat, IIT-B, IIT-M and SpaceKidz India have also made proposals with the IN-SPACe. “The fact that so many Indian firms, both big companies like L&T and Bharti Group and startups are progressing well is encouraging and in line with our PM’s vision. Interest from foreign firms like Amazon will also help India become a global space hub,” said K Sivan, secretary, Department of Space (DoS).

 

Fostering Innovation and Security

The shift towards privatization in the space industry is enhancing innovation, lowering costs, and boosting operational capabilities. US and global trends indicate the benefits of private sector involvement. PM Modi’s launch of the Indian Space Association (ISpA) as an independent agency highlights India’s commitment to fostering innovation, encouraging private sector participation, and securing national interests.

 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi  launched the Indian Space Association (ISpA) via video-conferencing, and, on the occasion, also interacted with representatives of the space industry. ISpA, Prime Minister Modi observed, will act as a single-window and independent agency on matters related to space technology.

 

PM Modi laid out what he described as “four pillars” of space technology: freedom for innovation in private sector, a government which plays the role of enabler and not handler, preparing youngsters for future, and treating the space sector as a resource for the progress of the common man. “This the time for exponential, and not linear innovation. This is possible only when the government plays the role of an enabler, and not the handler. Today, the government is sharing its expertise, and providing launch pads for the private sector. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is being opened for the private sector,” he said.

 

He also emphasised how the space sector earlier used to be synonymous with the ruling dispensation, adding that it was his government which changed this mindset. “We introduced innovation to this field. We also gave the mantra of cooperation between between the Centre and start-ups,” Prime Minister Modi said.

 

2 startups authorized to launch payloads

Dhruva Space’s Dhruva Space Satellite Orbital Deployer – (DSOD 1U), a technology demonstration payload, and Digantara’s ROBust Integrating Proton Fluence Meter (ROBI), a Proton dosimeter payload, were authorised, an IN-SPACe statement said in June 2022.

The payloads would fly onboard PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM) of PSLV-C53 scheduled to be launched on June 30.

“The first two launch Authorisations issued by IN-SPACe is an important milestone and marks the beginning of private space sector launches in India,” said IN-SPACe Chairman Pawan Kumar Goenka.

 

IN-SPACe is an autonomous, single window nodal agency; formed to promote, authorise, monitor and supervise the space activities of Non-Governmental Private Entities (NGPEs) in India. On 10 June, In-SPACe the headquarters in Ahmedabad was inaugurated by PM Modi.

 

Space’s Crucial Role in National Security

As space operations become central to military activities, nations worldwide are enhancing their space capabilities to support defense strategies. India’s ASAT test and satellite-based intelligence capabilities exemplify its focus on national security. Developing comprehensive Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and military applications require private sector engagement and innovation to bolster India’s defense capabilities.

 

Defense Space

The growth of space sector is also plays a  large role in national security as Space capabilities have become central to many military operations, including missile warning, geolocation and navigation, target identification, and tracking of adversary activities. Using High Resolution Satellite imagery of the disputed India-China frontier high in the Karakoram mountains, experts have been able to estimate the buildup of troops, movement of armored carriers, construction activities before and after June 2020’s deadly clash between India and China along the contested border at Ladakh between India and China. The recent deaths of at least 20 soldiers in the Galwan Valley, part of a remote stretch of the 3,380-kmLine of Actual Control (LAC), established following the 1962 war represents the largest loss of life from a skirmish between the two countries since the clashes in 1967 that left hundreds dead.

 

Space is  becoming increasingly militarized  and many countries including China are developing killer microsatellites and other antisatellite weapons (ASAT) that could be used to damage other satellites. US, Russia and China are world leaders in  militarization of space possessing extensive space infrastructure.  China continues to develop a variety of capabilities designed to limit or prevent the use of spacebased assets by adversaries during a crisis or conflict, including the development of directed-energy weapons and satellite jammers. Space has become another domain of warfare and Space operations probably will form an integral component of other PLA campaigns.

In response India has also developed satellites for  it’s military applications and recently carried its ASAT test. India’s test is seen as a deterrent against China who conducted anti-satellite tests as far back as 2007, which shocked all world. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared  in March 27, 2019  that the country had pulled off an ASAT missile launch that same day. The launch, “Mission Shakti,” struck an Indian satellite in low Earth orbit, turning the object into debris. The satellite used in the mission was one of India’s existing satellites operating in lower orbit. The significance of the test is that India has tested and successfully demonstrated its capability to interdict and intercept a satellite in outer space based on complete indigenous technology.

 

The Indian private industry must step in to provide cutting-edge space technologies and products to boost operational capabilities of the Indian armed forces, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat said. “Space and cyber domains have become critical to our ability to undertake operations across the spectrum, both in peace and conflict,” he said.

 

While the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will continue to provide leadership and guidance, the expanding needs of the nation and the armed forces require that the private industry must step in and step forward, General Rawat said. The initiative will surely help in making India a new global space hub in the years ahead, General Rawat said.

 

Like the armed forces the world over, the Indian armed forces are significant users of diverse space products including communication, position navigation and timing, and of course, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, he said. “And apart from this, space situational awareness, and protection of our space based assets have become important domains,” the CDS said.

 

The growth of both commercial and military space depends on the development of strong Industrial base along with large private sector participation. The space environment is no longer the sole preserve of government agencies. Private companies have entered the exploration domain and are propelling the sector forward more vigorously and swiftly than would be the case if left to governments alone. In 2019  NASA announced it would open the International Space Station to private astronauts, with short missions beginning as soon as 2020. Additionally, NASA said it would allow companies to bid for new activities on the space station, as the agency unveiled a directive to “enable commercial manufacturing and production” in space.

 

Future Prospects and Beyond

The Indian space industry is on the cusp of transformational growth, with commercial and military sectors evolving in parallel. Increased private sector participation, infrastructure-sharing initiatives, and reform-driven policies are propelling India toward becoming a global space hub. As the Indian space sector undergoes revolutionary reforms, it is poised to carve a distinct niche in the global space economy and play a crucial role in shaping future space exploration and security paradigms.

 

 

References and resources also include:

https://www.orfonline.org/research/from-earth-to-space-68717/?amp

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/in-space-india-space-missions-private-participation-isro-6476532/

https://weather.com/en-IN/india/space/news/2020-12-31-ushering-more-space-sector-reform-on-priority-for-2021

https://swarajyamag.com/insta/indias-liberalisation-in-the-space-sector-becomes-big-hit-as-22-indian-and-4-global-firms-send-proposals

 

 

 

 

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