Government’s task of ensuring involvement of private companies in their endeavours towards space exploration and satellite programmes will come to fruition later this month.
Indian finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s announcement that her government would encourage the involvement of private companies in their endeavours towards space exploration and satellite programmes has now come to fruition. Both these industries are driven by the government’s Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
According to reports, for the first time in over fifty years of India’s space programme, ISRO has now opened up its facilities to the private sector with two satellites from companies and one from academia being tested in the UR Rao Satellite Centre (URSC).
This puts into focus the effort to enhance its space sector through the role of private entities in the role of space exploration, instead of merely acting as suppliers. To ensure that it does not simply plan but also act ISRO has already announced its first campaign for 2021 – to launch on February 28 a Brazilian satellite Amazonia-1 the three Indian payloads, including one built by a home-grown start-up.
The satellites are slated to be launched onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-51 at 10.28 am from the Sriharikota spaceport, over 100 kms from Chennai.
ISRO chief K. Sivan described the upcoming mission as “special for us, special for the entire country” and beginning of a “new era of space (sector) reforms”.
Amazonia-1, is the first earth observation satellite entirely developed by Brazil and it will be the primary payload.
‘Anand’, ‘Satish Dhawan’ satellite and ‘UNITYsat’ will be the co-passengers.
‘Anand’ is built by Indian space startup, Pixxel, and ‘Satish Dhawan Satellite’ by Chennai-based Space Kidz India.
Two private firms will test their engines at Sriharikota spaceport and Thiruvananthapuram rocket centre. Isro will reportedly give its satellite images to a private firm that offers mapping services.
K. Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space (DoS), India and Chairman, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had reiterated the government’s position towards privatisation last year by commenting, “All non-governmental entities will be allowed to build rockets and satellites, providing launch services, own satellites and provide space-based services on a commercial basis.”
Satellites from Tamil Nadu-based Space Kidz India and Bengaluru-based Syzygy Space Technologies have undergone testing. There were a few niggles that cropped up, namely issues with solar panels and problems with the separation system for URSC’s UNITYSat project, but ISRO’s team of experts have addressed these issues.
ISRO is not short on approaches from the private sector at the moment with reportedly 26 proposals being under review.
According to media reports, UNITYsat is an arrangement of three satellites constructed and built by Jeppiaar Institute of Technology, Sriperumbudur, GH Raisoni College of Engineering, Nagpur and Sri Shakthi Institute of Engineering and Technology, Coimbatore.
Agnikul Cosmos from Chennai will be testing its engines at Thiruvananthapuram, while Skyroot Aerospace from Hyderabad will be testing their engines at Sriharikota. There is also we MapmyIndia, which builds digital maps and offers GIS services and they have been speaking to ISRO on the subject of high-resolution images.
Proposals from US-based Amazon Web Services and Bharti Group backed UKbased OneWeb, are also under consideration by the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre.
Sivan did assert last year that since the reforms were announced a number of start-ups had approached ISRO. There was mention of conducting an industry promotion meet to discuss the aspects of these reforms and strategies, details of the mechanism, and application requirements. The agency would retain the remit to inspect for technical, legal safety and security, and activity promotion, as well as for monitoring purposes. It was also decided to allow private companies to build facilities within DoS premises and ISRO had pledged to share their technical knowledge with private players.
In June last year, the government of India had permitted the establishment of an autonomous nodal agency, called the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (In-Space), under the DoS, as a separate vertical for taking independent decisions concerning permitting and regulating the private companies in the space sector.
The emergence and activity of private in the space sector provides continued momentum to the Indian government’s mission of ‘Self-Reliant India’. The fact that ISRO intends to share its facilities with the private sector is a crucial component in Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s reforms. It formed a part of the fourth component of the $266 billion Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (Self-Reliant India) economic stimulus package announced by Sitharaman last year. The decision also allows India’s space sector to test the waters and clinch those potentially profitable monies from entrepreneurs globally.
The government of course would apply checks and balances which are crucial, specially in this industry. Applications would be viewed on merit and if the conditions are met keeping in mind that national security and interest is paramount. Bids would be followed by undertakings and all guidelines would need to be strictly enforced. But against these conditions Indian firms can now enter into partnerships with foreign companies on a 60-40 split through FDI.
According to an official statement released by Dr. Jitendra Singh MoS Atomic Energy and Space, Rs 900 Crore was allocated to ISRO for FY 2020-21 for developing capacity for launching of satellites. He stated that the Department of Space has been involved in launching satellites of foreign countries with a total of 328 satellites launched from 33 countries. The revenue earned thus far has $25 million and 189 million euros.
ISRO have earned their spurs on the global stage for space exploration. Their track record of being low coast service providers and reliable partners in space launches that focuses on innovation, scale and attention to detail speaks for itself. The entry of private players will now ensure that the sky is clearly not the limit when it comes to India marking out new trails in its space odyssey.
– Inputs from Reuters