- New Reforms
- Need for the move
- Way Forward
A new frontier for Space startups
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The Finance Minister has announced a ground-breaking initiative by opening up space and atomic energy to private players, referring to them as “fellow travellers’’. The Indian government’s active intervention in the space industry is a testimony to the urgency with which India is ready to tackle challenges and transform the sector into an active global leader rather than a passive bystander.
- The fourth tranche of Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan opened up the facilities of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for private sectors.
- Private firms are allowed in the fields of satellite and other space based services like planetary exploration and outer space travel.
- Other reforms include the levelling of the playing field for private companies in satellites, launches and space-based services by introducing a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players and providing access to geospatial data and facilities of ISRO.
Need for the move:
- ISRO’s annual budget has crossed ₹10,000 crore ($1.45 billion), growing steadily from ₹6,000 crore five years ago.
- Still, the demand for space-based services in India is far greater than what ISRO can supply.
- Private sector investment is critical, for which a suitable policy environment needs to be created.
- A national legislation is needed to ensure overall growth of the space sector and facilitate ISRO’s partnership with industries and entrepreneurs.
- From its initial days of civilian applications for remote-sensing, meteorology and communication, India’s space sector has hugely evolved and expanded to include broadband services, space exploration, space-based navigation, defence and security applications.
- ISRO has gradually been opening up to the Indian private space sector in the past few years, as it ran out of in-house capacity to address India’s growing requirements in the space industry.
- Utilising ISRO’s world-class infrastructure (testing and manufacturing facilities) for the private sector can go a long way in saving unnecessary costs and making the industry more competitive.
- The current efforts will focus on creating a competitive playing field where new players can receive support from ISRO and flourish.
- The support to private sector industries including start-ups will unleash their potential to engage and prosper in the space exploration industry.
- With a remarkable talent pool and some great start-ups already operating outside the ISRO ecosystem, the entry of the private sector can bring several advantages in terms of cost and access to the industry.
1. Allocating Funds:
- The crucial issue of funding is the first bottleneck that needs to be addressed.
- The early-stage innovations must be supported by the government through “adventure” capital and long term “patient” capital, not just risk-averse venture capital.
- There is a need for public-private partnership in financing too, not just in the development.
2. Public procurement policy:
- The startups need a head start in the market and the current public procurement system is heavily loaded against them.
- The lowest-cost-selection approach must change to lower total cost of ownership.
- This requires creating an innovative public procurement policy for startups.
3. Innovation ecosystem:
- India needs to create a robust space tech-startup national innovation ecosystem comprising incubators, accelerators, scalerators and mentors.
- ISRO has a pivotal role in anchoring this initiative.
- There must be synergy with the government’s flagship programmes such as Digital India, Startup India, Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, etc.
- There is an urgent need for a clear law that allows private players to participate across the space value chain and not just bits of it.
- The draft Space Activities Bill, introduced in 2017, has lapsed. This is an opportunity to rewrite it with a bold perspective.
The move is an enticing prospect for commercial players seeking a fair share of the lucrative space manufacturing in terms of satellites, propellant technologies and other areas. Since, space is a strategic sector, India needs an ensuing legislation that encourages private initiative, investment, management and technological input. Along with being Atma Nirbhar, India needs atma-vishwas (self confidence) with bold policies and determined actions to pole vault to a great new future.