By Staff Correspondent
India’s space sector is poised to witness a significant influx of private players with groundbreaking reforms to liberalise the industry, similar to Western economies. Traditionally, the Department of Space (DoS) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) have led the space sector in India, but recent changes in governance structure mean that the private sector will play a more active role in the future. The Union Minister for State (MoS) in the Department of Space, Jitendra Singh has called for the development of futuristic technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), Big-data, and blockchain to contribute to the nation’s overall development in the space and defence sectors.
Critical space assets have become increasingly vital for military and defence organisations worldwide. In this context, India’s space sector can add strategic depth to the nation’s defence capabilities by providing regulatory and policy support. The space ecosystem in India can generate new disruptive applications for modern defence needs and solutions essential for intelligence, such as high-resolution imagery, surveillance, and reconnaissance, in addition to navigation and communication. Satellites provide critical sensor information for global observation that is more challenging to disrupt, degrade, and deny than sensors in other domains.
In light of the fast-evolving geopolitical context, it is essential to integrate space capabilities into an overall defence strategy. The government’s ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ policies aim to encourage indigenous manufacturing and make India a manufacturing hub. The defence and space sectors aim to achieve a market target of $25 billion and $50 billion by 2025 and 2030, respectively, with a growth trajectory of 17% compounded annual growth rate. Both sectors could aid in meeting the overall export target of $1 trillion by 2025. As India moves forward in its space ambitions, watching the private sector play a more significant role in this rapidly growing sector will be exciting.
Indian Private Sector Takes The Lead in Space & Defence
The private sector in India has shown an impressive display of dedication to meeting the demands of the space and defence industries, with leading companies such as Ananth Technologies, Airbus, Mahindra Aerospace, Thales, Tata, Centum, MTAR, Godrej, and L&T Defence leading the charge in producing top-quality space-related products and components. The sector has also seen a growing number of start-ups emerging in the field. Ananth Technologies, for instance, which is a company founded in 1992, has earned a well-deserved reputation as a leader in the field of space-technology, offering an extensive range of launches, satellites, payloads, and applications. Its expertise in critical aerospace systems and high-value geospatial services has earned it recognition from prestigious clients worldwide, boasting international certification (AS 9100C & ISO 9001:2008).
With over 30 years of design and development experience, Ananth Technologies has produced various systems utilised in aircraft, helicopters, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), parachutes, and ground communication systems. Its domain expertise spans from airborne/ground radio communication systems to radars (TR modules, digital receivers, EW systems (EW simulator)), satellite ground communication (MSS terminal), airborne/ground/space telemetry, and underwater communication. Its power systems expertise includes telemetry/telecommand, core power systems, power distribution, attitude and Orbital Control, electro-optic Sensors, payloads, mechanisms, and integration.
Ananth Technologies has solidified its position globally in the strategic defence and aerospace supply chain, having contributed to 88 satellite and 68 launch programs and being the only Indian company audited and certified by EADS to manufacture subsystems for its satellites. The company has played a significant role in the success of the Indian space program, having been the largest contributor of subsystems, including mission computers, control systems, sensors, and communication systems. The company has been part of every Indian space program since its inception, contributing to the successful launch of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles, with its different stages harnessed, integrated, tested, and qualified by ATL.
The private space player’s growth and heritage have been supported by state-of-the-art labs spread over a 50,000 sq. m area, equipped with AS-certified quality standards, including facilities such as class 100,000 cleanrooms and AIT Facilities, among others. The company is poised for continued growth and success with a 1600-strong workforce across its Plants at Hyderabad, Bangalore, and Trivandrum. Ananth Technologies has facilities in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Thiruvananthapuram, with the latter committed to launching vehicle technologies integration, developing avionics packages, and integrating Launch Vehicles for space missions.
Recent deals for Ananth Technologies include signing contracts with several international companies to build and launch two communication satellites and a technological partnership with an Australian firm. The company has also inked deals such as Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with Indian start-ups Space Machine and GalaxyEye to bring the world’s first satellite/constellation with both SAR and optical payloads. Ananth Technologies is also part of a collaborative effort with Antaris and XDLINX to deliver a breakthrough solution for a multi-payload satellite imaging constellation.
Despite the private sector’s involvement in defence and space manufacturing and applications, the lack of regulatory and policy support has stunted growth in these sectors. However, the Indian Space Policy 2023’s recent announcement and the policy document’s publication in the public domain have been seen as a game-changer, and companies like Ananth Technologies are well-equipped to thrive in this dynamic industry.
Regulatory Changes Needed To Support Private Space Industry
In India, regulatory changes are crucial for the space and defence sectors together can gain immensely from cross-industry collaborative policies where the sectors can naturally exchange research activities, technologies, processes and ideas and mutually benefit from such exchanges. Leveraging space power would include exploiting space to enhance defence capabilities and protect our national space assets.
Facilitating policies can combine existing technologies more prolifically and lead to the development of state-of-the-art applications and enhance the indigenous manufacturing capacity more cost-effectively and with better commercial traction. The Indian Space Policy 2023 is a welcome step towards this direction, and industry analysts feel it could pave the way for a much-needed DefSpace and DefSat policy. India must develop policies to promote dual-use technologies for military and civilian agencies and speed up research and development for manufacturing state-of-the-art defence and space platforms. The country needs to keep pace with global advancements, and our policymakers and strategists need to effectively meet the enormous challenges driven by the transformation.
Defence applications must maintain high confidentiality; hence, indigenous development of defence space products is critical. As discussed, space assets are critical for defence missions as well as counter-space activities and space sector manufacturing can bring self-reliance to defence manufacturing. India can have its own critical satellite constellations from a strategic and security point of view and reduce its dependency on countries like Russia, France, Israel, and the US, among others, for imports which is not only an unfavourable strategy also hamper modernisation and operational preparedness.
A favourable tax and Investment environment would also attract international companies to establish manufacturing plants in India. The Govt. has liberalised Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the space sector up to 100% in satellites-establishment and operation, subject to the sectoral guidelines of the DoS and plans to further liberalise the FDI rules soon. In the defence sector, the FDI limit is enhanced up to 74% through the automatic route for companies seeking new defence industrial licenses and up to 100% by the government route.
Communication satellites in GEO; need orbital positions and expect the government to enable access to orbital slots through a mechanism of PPP or otherwise. This will highly encourage the companies in both sectors to collaborate in the form of joint ventures and mergers, and acquisitions and help strengthen and develop a strong indigenous defence and space industrial base and enhance exports. Such measures will leverage the synergies between defence and space industries for maintaining indigenous manufacturing capabilities, cutting down the imports and achieving the export targets of the government. With positive policy developments, the private sector will be poised to change the face of the domestic space industry and build India as a leading spacefaring nation in the global arena.