Pvt sector will build rockets, says ISROUpdated: Jun 26, 2020 00:10 IST
New Delhi: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K Sivan on Thursday said the private sector will be allowed to provide end-to-end space services, including building and launching rockets and satellites.
“The private sector will be enabled to carry out space activities like building of rockets, satellites, providing launch services on a commercial basis. ...[It] can also be part of interplanetary missions of ISRO. This is being planned to be done through the announcement of opportunities,” he said at an online briefing.
The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the formation of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to open up the space infrastructure to the private sector. IN-SPACe will play a supplementary role to ISRO and will independently evaluate and approve space-related activities.
ISRO scientists have so far designed all launch vehicles and satellites and the private players were brought in to manufacture components.
Sivan said the Centre’s move to open up the space infrastructure will boost the country’s industrial base and improve access to space-based services.
He added ISRO’s activities are not going to be reduced and it will continue to carry out space-based activities, including advanced research and development, inter-planetary and human space flight missions.
Sivan said private companies have already approached them for using ISRO facilities and that they were processing the requests under a fast-track mode.
He added the mechanism may take three to six months to become operational and private companies can until then apply through the space department.
Sivan said IN-SPACe will be an independent body and have its own directorates for technical, legal, safety and security, and activity promotion as well as for monitoring purposes. The IN-SPACe board will have representation from industry, academia, and the government.
Sivan underlined the need for new policies and revamping the old ones for the system to function effectively. He added the role of the New Space India Limited, ISRO’s commercial arm set up last year, would be modified to empower it to take over existing launch vehicle and satellite technologies and commercialise them through industry consortiums. It will undertake technology transfer activities, (said Sivan?).
Experts have been demanding that the private sector be involved in the routine space activities like launching communication and earth observation satellites to free up resources for exploration.
India’s space endeavours have picked up the pace. Another lander-rover mission to moon, solar mission Aditya L1, human spaceflight programme, and a mission to Venus are expected in the next few years.
Rajeswari Rajagopalan, who heads Observer Research Foundation’s nuclear and space policy initiative, said if India does not accelerate the pace of privatisation of space sector, other countries will overtake it. “India has a lot of advantage in terms of cost and reliability, but if we do not improve our pace in terms of the number of launches and the kind of missions that we do, others who may not have as much of an advantage will get into the global commercial space market.”
Rajagopalan said China does low-cost launches and they are capturing that market. “Other than that, there are several companies such as Space X and Blue Origin which are also going to get into that market space. So unless India gets its act together, we will lose out on our share of the pie.”
Rajagopalan said ISRO has not been very enthusiastic about involving the private sector. “ISRO has enjoyed complete monopoly and certain privilege in undertaking space mission so far because they are the only actors and why would they like to bring in competition from outside.”
Rajagopalan added ISRO will now be judged against the performance of other players. “We have seen this in telecom and airline industries. It brings in competitiveness but also efficiency. Unless it is a politically pushed measure, ISRO, on its own, does not have any incentive to go ahead with it.”
Rajagopalan said there is not much excitement in the industry right now. “It is a wait-and-watch approach because essentially it will all depend on the execution of this announcement into reality. ISRO prefers an outsourcing model. There is no clear sense of how this new body will work. Also, there is a need for an appropriate legislative and regulatory framework that will enable the private sector to have a level playing field.”