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Private sector in space: How India stands to gain

Desh Gaurav Sekhri & Satwik MishraOn June 24, GoI announced a transformative roadmap for space exploration through a multi-stakeholder engagement plan. It has also announced the creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), tasked with working towards facilitating private companies to use Indian space infrastructure. Then, New Space India Ltd (NSIL) will work towards redesigning space activity from a ‘supply-driven’ model to a ‘demand-driven’ one, thereby ensuring optimum utilisation of India’s space assets. These reforms would enable the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) to focus more on new research technologies, exploration missions and India’s manned space programme, Gaganyaan. So, while Isro will continue to take all key decisions on space activities, projects and missions, NSIL and IN-SPACe will help facilitate and regulate these activities, and fulfil demands of the private sector. Today, even without recognising it, the life of a common man is integrated to space technology. The ‘unconnected’ have the chance to come online using low Earth orbit satellites-facilitated internet access. Schoolchildren are learning and up-skilling using teleeducation. Patients are getting diagnosed by doctors using telemedicine. A Practo study released earlier this week, ‘How India Accessed Healthcare in the Last Three Months’ (bit.ly/3fsnl8U), showed that about five crore Indians accessed telemedicine between March and May. Those in villages are using Isro’s Village Resource Centre to access a range of services. Farmers are using a range of services that include forecasting of droughts, floods and weather patterns to plan their sowing and harvesting. Satellite imagery is predicting crop yield and productivity by imaging land, using spectral bands. This enables farmers to better decide when to add water or fertiliser, and when to harvest. Fishermen have access to the GEMINI system (Global positioning system-aided geo-augmented navigation.Enabled Mariner’s Instrument for Navigation and Information), a receiver linked to Indian satellites, to avoid communication blackouts at sea, while informing them of prevalence of fish in the area, and providing storm alerts up to 300 nautical miles. Eagle Eyes in Space For transparency in governance, infrastructure is becoming geotagged, time-stamped and then linked to the Bhuvan Portal. Geotagging is being extensively used in housing projects. Similarly, GeoMGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) is a disruptive iteration in the employment guarantee scheme. Google Maps lists over 57,000 public toilets in cities across India, greatly augmenting Swachh Bharat. The platform also allows for ratings and reviews, which create an insights feedback loop helping GoI to maintain and upgrade toilets. All of this can be enhanced as India becomes a major player in the space economy. Globally, the private sector is becoming a significant player in space. Commercial players such as Blue Origin and SpaceX in the US are leading both innovative exploration and commercial applications. India has now given itself the opportunity to become a leading nation in the space economy, and the potential benefits are manifold. The global space economy is currently pegged at $360 billion, and slated to rise to $1trillion by 2040. The upstream market comprising commercial satellite launches is estimated at $108 billion (30%); the midstream market comprising operator’s revenues, ground infrastructure and operations $33 billion (9.2%); and the downstream market of space services and consumer equipment at $219 billion (60.8%). Similarly, the Indian space economy is valued at $7 billion, and involves upstream and downstream activities worth $2.3 billion (33%) and $4.7 billion (66%) respectively. The downstream market provides the maximum scope for private players’ involvement as well as for the Indian policy environment to support ‘Make in India’. The service model of the space industry has, in terms of nations having the niche expertise to deliver, limited participants on the supply side. On the flip side, demand for space applications comes from virtually every country. Going forward, private industry can contribute significantly to national income and employment opportunities. The opportunities could lead more young Indians to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) as a career path. India’s share in the global space economy is 2% now. With the recent announcement, this number should increase exponentially. Isro has already launched over 300 satellites for other countries through joint cooperation missions. India is collaborating with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (Jaxa), France’s National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and the European Space Agency (ESA), among other nations, on various projects. The opportunity for furthering such associations will expand under the new roadmap. The Final Frontier All of this development will be backed by a strong governance and legal framework. The draft Space Activities Bill (SAB) being contemplated will add the legal support to this unprecedented policy suggestion. The intellectual property right (IPR) support system could be accelerated for space entrepreneurs to provide them confidence to invest in these sectors and make it easy for them to get access to finances. Finally, a global demand mapping needs to be carried out to understand the market needs in the short and medium term, to give a macro perspective to the Indian space economy. This will then be supported by a strong governance framework that will ensure accountability and transparency during the rapid transformation of this sector. Sekhri and Mishra are officer on special duty and young professional (governance and research), respectively, NITI Aayog