In a significant move, the union cabinet has finally approved the Indian Space Policy, 2023. The policy is expected to enhance the role of the space department, initiate greater private sector participation and encourage research.

The Indian space sector is globally recognised for cost-effective satellite buil­ding. The new policy aims to leverage this cost-effectiveness. Further, India’s space activities are currently dominated by the government sector and are mostly government funded. In fact, the country’s nodal space agency, the Indian Space Research Or­ganisation (ISRO) is the sixth-largest space agency globally.

The country, with over 400 private space companies operational at present, ranks fifth globally in terms of the number of space companies; however, private sector activity is limited. The new policy aims to change this by enabling the private sector to participate in space launches and other activities. The policy will also encourage ISRO to focus on the development of new technologies and solutions. Moreover, it is expected to strengthen India’s position globally by increasing its share in the global space economy from less than 2 per cent to 10 per cent in the future.

Key features of the policy

Delineation of roles and responsibilities

The Indian Space Policy, 2023 outlines the roles and responsibilities of various organisations in the space sector. It specifies the responsibilities of ISRO, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) and private sector entities. This clarity in roles will help in the efficient functioning of these entities.

In particular, the policy specifies that ISRO will not do any operational and production work for the space sector and fo­cus its energies on research and development as well as on developing new technologies and systems. All the strategic ac­tivities related to the space sector will be carried out by NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) which will work in a demand-driven mode to cater to the needs of the industry. Another key highlight is that the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) will act as the interface between ISRO and non-governmental entities.

Greater thrust on private sector participation

The policy recognises the importance of the private sector in developing the country’s space sector. It aims to allow private stakeholders to take part in end-to-end space activities that include building satellites, rockets and launch vehicles, data collection and dissemination. The policy also spells out the framework for the private sector to use ISRO facilities for a small charge and encourages private players to invest in creating new infrastructure for the sector.

Encouraging multistakeholder participation

Encouraging multiple stakeholders to participate in the evolving space sector is another highlight of the policy. In addition to enhancing the role of the Department of Space, it aims to encourage participati­on from research, academia, start-ups and industry. This is expected to help in the development of new technologies, innovative solutions and talent pool.

Dawn of a new era

The roll-out of the new space policy is expected to signal the dawn of a new era for the Indian space sector. Industry stakeholders have welcomed the policy and believe that it will help place the country’s space economy into a growth orbit.

According to Lt General A.K. Bhatt (Retd), director general, Indian Space Association (ISpA), “This is a historic moment. It will pave the way forward with much-required clarity in space reforms and augment private industry participation to drive the space economy in the country.”

Industry players are positive that the government nod will help establish an entire framework to benefit private player participation in the sector in line with other global markets. For instance, the US, Europe and Russia all have space industries comprising big players in the space ecosystem such as Boeing, SpaceX, AirBus and Virgin Galactic.

Recognising the government’s efforts to encourage private sector participation through the new policy, Nelco, a Tata Gr­o­­up company, recently withdrew its application for global mobile personal communication by satellite (GMPCS) licence, sent to the Department of Tele­co­m­munications (DoT) for offering sa­tellite communication services to consu­mers. The company plans to apply for a new licence under the new space policy.

Further, there is hope that the new policy is going to enhance India’s market share in the global economy by a whopping five times within a decade. The space manufacturing ecosystem is also expected to improve markedly.

Impending issues and the way forward

While the launch of the new space policy is a step in the right direction, a few key issues need to be addressed. One of these is the lack of regulations on commercialisation which could lead to monopolisation. Further, rising space debris from increasing expeditions is an issue. Another key issue is China’s rapid growth in the space industry and potential weaponisation leading to increasing global trust deficit and creating an environment of suspicion and potential conflict. All these issues need to be considered while deciding the implementation framework for the new policy.

Recently, DoT made a crucial start to freeing up the satellite sector by abolishing net­work operations control centre (NOCC) charges. The government has al­so enhanced the scope of the commercial very small aperture terminal (VSAT) licence to enable provisioning of user terminal stations on moving platforms.

Additionally, assignment of spectrum for space-based communication services has been an issue of contention within industry circles. However, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently released a consultation paper titled “Assignment of Spectrum for Space-based Communication Services”, which aims to discuss appropriate frequency bands, band plan, block size, applicable reserve price, quantum of spectrum to be auctioned and associated conditions for auction of spectrum for space-based communication services. In the paper, TRAI has considered all spectrum bands relevant for space-based communication services as indicated by DoT. The consultation paper reflects the government’s will to establish an industry-friendly framework for assignment of space spectrum. The following consultation process is expected to come up with the best possible method to propel sector growth.

Net, net, the government’s approval of the space policy comes at a time when the world is all set to embrace the power of space technology. While the policy will provide a strategic roadmap for the growth and development of the sector, TRAI’s consultation paper will play a key role in defining the method of assignment of spectrum for space communications. Together, the go­vernment’s efforts are expected to create an ecosystem that promotes innovation, te­chnological advancements, international cooperation, and ensures national security in the space sector.

Kuhu Singh Abbhi