The spectacular sight of a rocket launch has always inspired millions around the world, and space exploration has been fantasized in many forms and medias. Many youngsters have dreamt of adventures in outer-space, and of extra-terrestrial life.

Space was an accessible domain for the common man in most space-faring countries, and many economies benefitted from that policy. In India, space sector was historically seen as a security domain and all activities were closely controlled. The state-owned space agency – ISRO, was the only actor for a very long time. As a result, the common space enthusiast was denied the pleasure of venturing into this exciting field and the sector’s economic potential could not be leveraged. 

Recognizing the economic potential of space, the Government announced a process of de-regulation of the sector, as part of identifying new domains for economic activity and to revive the COVID-19 stricken economy. Subsequent to this, all restrictions on the utilization of geo-spatial data for downstream activities has been scrapped, and new draft policies for the upstream sector have been released for comments. These policies are expected to remove the apprehensions in the minds of investors and pave the way for new economic activities in the private sector. 

India is a large country and the market for any sector is large enough for multiple players to co-exist. Space sector is no exception as suggested by the draft Geospatial Policy document, wherein it was indicted that ‘the total worth of the geospatial market in India is projected to grow to nearly INR 1 lakh crore by the year 2029-30 as per industries estimate’. The Indian satcom market is estimated to be around USD 11 billion currently. However, because of the severe restrictions imposed for a long time, the market may take time to evolve, and the above numbers may not indicate the true potential. 

As a federal republic, India has 28 states and 8 union territories, many of which may not be in full sync with the space-based technological solutions that may help them with info-driven governance, operate more efficiently and improve their revenue streams. Indian states may be the largest beneficiaries of these policies and India Inc may be looking at the emergence of a new domain of opportunities. 

However, the ecosystem needs nurturing both from the technology as well as finance angles. Space sector requires dedicated funds and mentors for development. The announcement that ISRO facilities can be used by the private sector opens the doors for handholding which is crucial. Though the downstream segment may be able to develop independently, the upstream segment certainly will benefit from ToTs from ISRO to avoid reinventing the wheel and to jump-start activities as there’s a lot of catching-up to do for Indian Industry. 

Another way to jumpstart the activities may be to have a liberal FDI policy to encourage technology partnerships. Many foreign space giants are interested in Indian market opportunities, and this can be leveraged to quickly build an ecosystem, to serve the market with made-in-India solutions. 

India is a leading player in the space domain. Over the years there were many enquiries, especially from developing countries, for affordable Indian space technology solutions. However, much of this demand could not be taken forward due to capacity limitations. 

In the current era of deregulation, handholding will translate the space pedigree of ISRO to Indian companies and help them access global markets, leveraging Indian manufacturing costs. 

As Indian space sector braces up for transformation, one has to bear in mind that we do not have a strong and independent private space industry and hence immediate results may not be possible. A diligent management of private sector growth, with policies, funding and mentoring, is essential for exploiting the demand and for economic progress. The Government has opened a new avenue for growth, promised level playing field for private companies along with predictable policy and regulatory environment. 

In the coming years space sector should witness exciting scenes in the economic domain, akin to a rocket launch, for the first time since the formation of Department of Space.

The article by Mr Rakesh Sasibhushan, Chairman, CII National Committee on Space and CMD, Antrix Corporation, first appeared in the October 2021 Issue of CII Communique. Click here to read.

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