Private sector participation can only propel India’s space program into a higher orbit, leaving ISRO to do the thinking.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has a record of achievements few public sector institutions in India can rival. Having completed 50 years in August last year, ISRO has propelled India into the small but exclusive club of spacefaring nations that can build sophisticated heavy-lift rockets and launch complex satellites laden with instruments whose uses range from communications to remote sensing to weather forecasting to military applications.
ISRO has expanded its reach right up to the moon and even placed an orbiter around Mars in its first attempt in 2013. It is now developing India’s first manned mission designed to have three astronauts orbiting in space for a week. ISRO has made India truly self-reliant, but for it to become a world spacepower, reforms were needed to allow the private sector to participate. That reform is finally here, announced as part of the government’s stimulus package.
Providing a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players so that they can invest in developing their capabilities
Giving a level playing field to private companies to build satellites, launches and space-based activities
Allowing the private sector to use ISRO facilities and other relevant assets to enhance their capability
Opening frontier projects like planetary exploration and outer space travel to the private sector
The opening up of the space sector is timely. The entry of new big private players, including Space X, a venture of Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, the space division of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has dramatically altered the nature and future of the space race. Over the years, ISRO had steadily outsourced the building of launch vehicles and satellite systems to private players so that both private and public sector companies are now providing over 50 per cent of the rocket and satellite systems.
By providing a level playing field, the reform will end ISRO’s monopoly over launching rockets and building satellites and enable the entry of private players in a big way. This is likely to substantially boost India’s space programme, both in terms of scope and reducing its reliance on government spending. ISRO chairman K. Sivan told india today, “We welcome the reforms—it is a very good thing and we are fully for it. We have to encourage private sector participation. They can work towards the capability of supplying the entire rocket launcher and satellites and not just sub-systems, and take ownership of them.”
If the reform materialises, ISRO can become more like its famed counterpart in the US, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA. NASA now concentrates more on space mission programming, planning and execution and relies on a host of private companies to build its launchers, satellite craft and space modules. Former ISRO chairman K. Kasturirangan, too, approves of the reforms.
“It will free up ISRO from repetitive activity and help it concentrate on core ones such as new ideas, new technology, new programmes and new directions,” he says. “It will expand both the scale and scope of India’s space activity exponentially.” ISRO can allow private players to use its launching, testing and laboratory facilities to build their systems so that they do not have to invest humongous amounts on building their own set-ups. In turn, it can benefit by charging for these services. Jayant Patil, director and senior vice-president, defence and smart technologies, Larsen &Toubro, one of the largest private players in the country in the launch vehicle systems business, sees the reforms as a “great opportunity but huge responsibility”.
As he puts it, “Today ISRO is developer, operator and user, all rolled into one. That is one way of doing it. But because space demands reliability, accountability, and responsibility, including dealing with international organisations, we need to see the fine print of the policy for private players to see its full scope.” Under the new policy, private players are also likely to be allowed to sell their space ware in the international market. Pranav Roach, president, Hughes Network Systems, believes the reforms have come at the right time as currently there is a boom in the $277 billion global satellite industry. “India can boost its current market of a couple of billion dollars to 15-fold and also have access to newer technology,” Roach says.
Private participation will not ramp up overnight. Sivan says ISRO will have to work with them to develop their capabilities
There are only a handful of big players and hundreds of smaller ones with varying capabilities. Large projects might require a consortium approach
Past attempts to include private participation saw very little success due to ISRO’s stranglehold. Private players want to see if the new policy will ensure true privatization. #24x7newsalert