For some decades now, the private sector in India is involved in space sector development. Many components making up a large part of the manufacturing and fabrication of rockets and satellites already are in the hands of the private sector, including research institutions. But the need to increase their role and make them into a strategic partner is acute.
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) needs to focus on research and development while leaving the rest to the private sector.
Keeping this in view, Government of India announced the setting up of a new space organization called the IN-SPACE (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre). It will facilitate and lay down rules for the private sector to play a much more significant and strategic role in space sector.
Description of the role and need for IN-SPACE (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre)
IN-SPACE will be a separate body within the Department of Space (DoS) that will have its own legal, technological, activity promotion and monitoring directorates.
Its Board will comprise members from the private industry, academia and government of India.
The new Centre will act as a national nodal agency for hand-holding and promoting private industry in the space sector and will even help private players build facilities within DoS premises.
It will take about three to six months for this mechanism to become operational.
It would promote private players in end-to-end space services, including building and launching rockets and satellites and providing space-based services commercially.
IN-SPACe will act as an interface between ISRO and private parties.
Where is the need for involving the private sector on such a large scale?
ISRO, like the National Aeronautics and Space Administration(NASA) of the US, is an R and D body. Even in research, Isro needs assistance. For example, there are a number of ambitious space missions lined up in the coming years, including a mission to observe the Sun, a mission to the Moon, a human spaceflight, and then, possibly, a human landing on the Moon.
It should not monopolise making launch vehicles and satellites. The involvement of the private sector in these areas will free up ISRO resources for research purposes.
The demand for space-based applications and services is growing and ISRO is unable to cater to this. The need for satellite data, imageries and space technology now cuts across sectors, from weather to agriculture to transport to urban development and more. As Sivan told this newspaper, ISRO would have to be expanded 10 times the current level to meet all the demand that is arising.
Didn't ISRO launch a privately built satellite in 2019?
Yes, it did. It is Kalamsat-V2. It is the world's lightest satellite ever to be put into orbit. Weighing only 1.26kg, the Kalamsat-V2 was made by students belonging to a space education firm.
So will we see companies like SpaceX of Elon Musk that put satellites into orbit and delivers cargo to the International Space Station (ISS)?
Yes. There are many startups in the fray. There are Indian companies that are in the process of developing their own launch vehicles like Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that carry the satellites and other payloads into space. ISRO is ready to provide all its facilities to private players whose projects had been approved by IN-SPACe. Private companies could build their own launchpad within the Sriharikota launch station and ISRO would provide the necessary land for that.
What does New Space India Limited (NSIL) do?
In the 2019 Budget, the government had announced the setting up of a New Space India Limited (NSIL). It is a public sector company under the Department of Space. Its main purpose is to market the technologies developed by ISRO and bring it more clients that need space-based services.
How is it different from Antrix Corporation?
Antrix Corporation sells ISRO data to foreign clients while New Space India Limited (NSIL) deals with domestic demand.