By Aritra Banerjee
The Indian government, on 6 April, 2023, approved the eagerly-awaited Indian Space Policy 2023. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) endorsed a policy that aims to institutionalise and promote private sector engagement in the space domain, with the ambitious goal of increasing India’s share in the global space economy from the current 2% to at least 10% in the near future. The policy document was subsequently released in the public domain on 20 April 2023.
The Indian Space Policy 2023 outlines the roles and responsibilities of three key entities:
- The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which is the national space agency
- New Space India Limited (NSIL), a space sector public sector undertaking (PSU); and
- The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe), an autonomous nodal agency meant to act as a medium between ISRO and the private space sector in India.
Space technology plays a pivotal role in various sectors, including communication, defence, disaster management, navigation, agriculture, weather forecasting, and monitoring. Therefore, the policy strongly emphasises the development of indigenous technologies to enhance capacity building in the space sector and promote self-reliance in space technology.
A notable highlight of the policy is the framework for the private sector to utilise ISRO facilities for a nominal charge. It encourages them to invest in creating new infrastructure for the sector. While ISRO will not engage in operational and production work for the space sector, it will focus on developing new technologies, systems, and research and development.
Dr S Somanath, Chairman of ISRO, stated, “a major objective is to increase our share in the global space economy from around 2% at present to at least 10% in the coming years, to do which government investment alone will not be enough, and there needs to be investment and participation from the private sector in a larger way.”
The policy underscores crucial elements expected to drive innovation, investment, and growth in the industry.
Key elements of the policy are the participation of non-government entities without restrictions, enabling them to engage in all domains of space activities. This includes building rockets and satellites, launching them, owning and operating them, and delivering them commercial services. This move will unlock new opportunities for private companies to contribute to the space economy, leveraging their expertise and capabilities.
IN-SPACe is to function as an autonomous Government organisation, mandated to promote, hand-hold, guide and authorise space activities in the country. For this purpose, IN-SPACe shall periodically issue guidelines and procedures, that would among other things promote ease of doing business.
NSIL, the PSU under the Department of Space (DoS) is responsible for commercialising space technologies and platforms created through public expenditure. Furthermore it shall manufacture, lease, or procure space components, technologies, platforms and other assets from private or public sector, on sound commercial principles. Lastly NSIL will service the space-based needs of users, whether Government entities or NGEs, on sound commercial principles.
The DoS will oversee the distribution of responsibilities outlined in this policy and ensure that the different stakeholders are suitably empowered to discharge their respective functions, without overlapping into others’ domain. It will be the nodal department for implementation of the Indian Space Policy 2023 through detailed policy directives, within the scope of which the various stakeholders shall carry out their assigned functions.
This clear delineation and streamlined approach is expected to simplify the process for private companies to interact with ISRO and obtain necessary approvals, thus fostering a conducive environment for private sector participation in space activities.
Stakeholders had eagerly awaited the policy details, expressing gratitude to Prime Minister Modi for his visionary leadership and focus on long-overdue reforms in the Indian space sector. With the approval of the Indian Space Policy 2023, India’s space sector is poised for a paradigm shift. Increased private sector participation is expected to stimulate innovation, investment, and growth, propelling the nation towards greater heights in the global space economy.
Commenting on the development, Lieutenant General Anil Kumar Bhatt (r), Director General of the Indian Space Association (ISpA), said, “this is a historic moment as the cabinet has approved the Indian Space Policy 2023. It will pave the way forward with much-required clarity in space reforms and augment private industry participation to drive the space economy opportunity for the country.”
Private sector players are also optimistic about the prospects of the policy. Awais Ahmed, Chief Executive Officer of Pixxel, a space startup, stated, “the policy has been long awaited. Startups such as ourselves at Pixxel have been continuing to work without a policy with one-off approvals from IN-SPACe with the promise that a policy and then, hopefully, a space bill and act would follow. Glad to finally see this come through. India has tremendous potential to leverage ISRO’s expertise and experience for its private ecosystem. We’ll see many more space companies being created that can compete globally.”
However, experts also caution the need for careful assessment and sustainable growth of commercial space applications in India.
Omkar Nikam, an Indian-origin space and defence expert, highlighted the importance of prudent funding and business strategies for private space companies. “Considering the track record of commercial private NewSpace companies globally, India should make sure that the funding instruments and channels are utilised in a sustainable manner. There have been many instances in the space industry where a company has acquired billions of dollars of funding without even a go-to-market strategy. Such situations will downplay the progressive commercial footprint of India’s space sector. Therefore, with the approval of ISP 2023, it is the responsibility of both private commercial entities as well as government agencies to assess the space company’s business plan carefully and ensure the sustainable growth of commercial space applications in India,” Nikam said.
The approval of the Indian Space Policy 2023 and the publication of document in the public domain has brough much-needed clarity and reforms in India’s evolving space industry. “This policy provides the much needed clarity on all space activities especially regarding space communication and other applications. The policy will help to create opportunities for private sector to engage in all aspects of the space industry,” Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt (r.), said. “We are confident that IN-SPACe and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) will work speedily to ensure necessary clearances for private players in India. We are also hopeful that the new Foreing Direct Investment (FDI) policy on space will be promulgated soon,” he added before signing off.