Lt General A.K. Bhatt (Retired), Director General, Indian Space Association

The private space sector has witnessed significant growth with the opening of the space sector to private entities in 2020 by the honourable prime minister. As we reflect on the past year, the space sector has significantly improved the country’s sp­a­ce capabilities and rapidly established itself on a global scale. It has been a year of acc­om­plishments, from successful launches and deployment of satellites to collaborations and development of new technologies.

The space sector, which was once seen as the government’s sole domain, has now experienced significant liberalisation. Or­ga­nisations including the Department of Space (DoS), Department of Tele­comm­u­ni­cations (DoT) and the Telecom Regula­tory Authority of India (TRAI) have promptly implemented a number of radical reforms. The year 2022 witnessed several significant turning points in the de­velopment of the private sector, including the pact of OneWeb with NewSpace India Li­mited (NSIL) to launch low earth orbit (LEO) satellites from India and signing of the first licence contract with DoT for satellite broadband followed by the succe­ss­ful launch of 36 LEO satellites from Sri­harikota. Also, the contract of Rs 8.6 billion awarded by NSIL to the space cong­lo­merate formed by Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Hi­ndus­tan Aeronautics Limi­ted (HAL), for the co­mmercial development of the next five polar satellite launch vehicles (PSLVs), is a new beginning.  Rising Indian space firm Pixxel launched its third hyperspectral satellite, “Anand”, for use in earth obser­va­tion applications after launching “Sha­ku­ntala” earlier this year and Dhruva Spa­ce successfully verified its satellite orbital deployer during the PSLV C53 mission. These launches, along with the launch of Skyroot’s first private launch vehicle, have made significant gains in the development of the private space industry.

The ground-breaking signing of MoUs between the Indian Space Research Orga­nisation (ISRO)/IN-SPACe and ISpA startup members (Agnikul, Astrome, Bellatrix, Dhruva, Digantra, TSC Technologies and Skyroot) marked the culmination of IN-SPACe as a private sector promoter. We also applaud the government’s initiatives to gather industry stakeholders for their input on the new space policy, spectrum allocation and licensing framework for setting up satellite earth station gateways, as well as DoT’s historic decision to abolish the network operation and control centre charges, which demonstrates the government’s continued commitment to provide the much-needed boost to the spread of satellite communication in the country.

In India, the space segment has been largely under the purview of the govern­me­nt. The satcom business is regulated by the DoS and DoT. ISRO is the primary service provider focused on building rockets and satellites.

To meet the growing communication needs for socio-economic development, im­­proving access to remote regions, na­tio­nal security, enterprise and consumer services, the demand for satellite bandwidth is increasing rapidly. Emerging terrestrial technologies such as 5G, 6G and internet of things (IoT) will result in lar­ger demand for satcom capacity. There is also a need to create a comprehensive regulatory environment that aids in developing end-to-end capabilities for satellite-based communication systems and applications.

Despite all the encouraging indicators, there are a few uncertainties that ne­ed at­tention. The action to achieve a certain goal to narrow the digital divide in the co­untry is being hampered by the limited re­ach and penetration of optic fibre. Satcom technology could be a great saviour in this case. The satellite services and application market in India will be driven by greater demand for high bandwidth and lower latency data requirements, connecting the unconnected with voice and data communication services, and increase in IoT and autonomous systems. The pro­­­­­tection of the satcom spectrum re­q­uire­ment and its method of “allocation by administrative means” or hitherto fee wo­uld be critical. In addition, the increase in demand for military and defence satellite communication solutions is likely to spur the market forward.

A new space policy promised by the DoS is just round the corner, and the outcome of the discussions is eagerly awaited. Even before the new rule is impleme­nted, there has been a huge flurry of project announcements and take-offs.

In the coming 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 earlier as compared to other developed countries like the US. The new policy, which will be followed by the Space Activity Bill, will completely transform the environment and contribute to the development of an investment strategy for the private space industry. A production-link­ed incentive sche­me for satellite manufacturing, similar to that for mobile phones and telecom gear, would further strengthen the private space ecosystem and foster the emergen­ce of new entrepreneurs that will contri­bute to the Indian space industry. The Indian space industry is in its early stages, and access to cost-effec­tive capital for st­art­-ups will help it grow even faster. With private firms growing and expanding production, there is also a need for holistic skill development, such as systems engineering competency, training on how to operate satellites skilfully, and technology associated with special alloys for launch vehicles.