Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt (Retd), Director General, Indian Space Association (ISpA)

The growth achieved by India’s private space industry is the result of the landmark decision taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2020 to open our space industry to the private sector. As we look back at the year 2022, the industry witnessed some major milestones in the growth journey of the private sector with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) authorising the space conglomerate formed by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) a Rs 8.6 billion contract for the commercial development of next five polar satellite launch vehicles (PSLVs) and the pact of OneWeb with NSIL to launch low earth orbit (LEO) satellites from India and signing the first license contract with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) for satellite broadband followed by the successful launch of 36 LEO satellites from Sriharikota.

The launch of the first private launch vehicle from Skyroot this year has made significant strides in the growth of the private space industry and also rising Indian space startups like Pixxel launched its third hyperspectral satellite ‘Anand’ for Earth observation applications following the launch of ‘Shakuntala’ earlier this year, Dhruva Space successfully validated its satellite orbital deployer during the PSLV C53 mission and subsequently launched two nanosatellites for amateur communications in PSLV C54 using P-dot satellite platform, Digantara built the world’s first commercial space weather sensor, Agnikul Cosmos under the aegis of IN-SPACe established India’s first private space vehicle launchpad at Sriharikota. These strides by the startups and young entrepreneurs will encourage technology development in space for defence applications through 75 defence space challenges aka Mission DefSpace launched by the prime minister during DefEXPO 2022.

The formation of IN-SPACe to handhold and promote the private sector culminated in the breakthrough signing of memorandums of understanding (MoUs) between Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)/IN-SPACe and Indian Space Association (ISpA) Startup members (Agnikul, Astrome, Bellatrix, Dhruva, Digantra, TSC Technologies and Skyroot). We also applaud the initiatives by the government authorities to bring together the industry stakeholders for their suggestions on the new space policy, spectrum allocation and licensing framework for establishing satellite earth station gateway and DoT’s landmark move on abolishing the network operations control centre (NOCC) charges which signifies government’s continued commitment in supporting the growth of digital communication therefore giving a much-needed push to the spread of satellite communication in the country.

For furthering support to the growing space industry and to reduce the ‘digital divide’ the government may consider the administrative allocation of spectrum. The sustainable growth of satellite communications in India depends on the harmonisation of 28 GHz frequency according to the global standards set by International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as the retention of 28 GHz frequency within space sector will support and help connecting the unconnected and provide impetus to local manufacturing and innovation.

The number of space startups in India has already crossed over 100+ and these startups have raised funding of more than $245.35 million. In forthcoming year of India’s G20 leadership, we expect the new ‘Indian Space Policy’ to be announced, this will enable India to likely achieve the capabilities much early, as compared to other developed countries like the US. The new ‘Indian Space Policy’ followed by the Space Activity Bill will be a complete gamechanger which will cover upstream and downstream activities and will help formulate vision to bolster investment climate in the private space sector. Production linked incentive (PLI) scheme for satellite manufacturing just like the mobile handsets and telecom equipment will further boost the private space ecosystem and help encourage new startups to come up. With the first private launch taking place in India recently, we envision more independent launch solutions of Indian private companies for satellites and other spacecrafts in the coming year. The Indian space industry is at a growing stage and access to cost effective capital for startups will further give impetus to the rapid growth. With the private companies shaping up and increasing productions, there is also a need for holistic skills development which is competency of systems engineering, training on how to operate satellites skillfully, and technology associated with special alloy for launch vehicles.