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India’s New Space Policy Allows Full Private Sector Involvement

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
May 16, 2023
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India’s New Space Policy Allows Full Private Sector Involvement
Artist’s conception of Vikram rocket in flight.
Image credit: Skyroot Aerospace.

Long dominated almost exclusively by the government, the Indian space industry is set for potentially explosive growth under a new national policy issued last month that opens the door for private companies to pursue virtually any business related to space.

According to the newly-released policy, Non-government entities (NGEs) “shall be allowed to undertake end-to-end activities in space sector through establishment and operation of space objects, ground-based assets and related services, such as communication, remote sensing, navigation, etc.”

India’s space policy includes a list of 14 areas where private companies can pursue profits, including building and operating communications and remote-sensing satellites, and operating launch vehicles and ranges. It also gives private companies extensive rights over resources such as space rocks and other recovered materials.

Private companies would be able to “engage in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource,” the policy says. “Any NGE engaged in such process shall be entitled to possess, own, transport, use, and sell any such asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of India.”

India began to reform its space industry in 2020, enabling a number of private companies to manufacture satellites and begin developing small-satellite launch vehicles. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has signed agreements giving private companies access to space agency facilities and expertise for development and testing purposes.

The Indian National Space Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) has been established as an autonomous government organization “to promote, hand-hold, guide and authorize space activities in the country. For this purpose, IN-SPACe shall periodically issue guidelines and procedures, that would among other things promote ease of doing business,” the policy reads.

IN-SPACe will “act as the single window agency for the authorisation of space activities by government entities as well as NGEs, subject to relevant Government directives, keeping in mind safety, national security, international obligations and/or foreign policy considerations,” according to the policy.

IN-SPACe’s goal is to create a stable regulatory framework and a level playing field for private space companies to prosper. Meanwhile, ISRO’s main responsibility will be to focus on the research and development of space technologies and applications, and expanding scientific knowledge about space.

Another public entity, NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), has been formed to commercialize space technologies that have been created using public funding. NSIL will also “manufacture, lease, or procure space components, technologies, platforms and other assets from private or public sector, on sound commercial principles,” according to the new space policy.

Last September, NewSpace India awarded a contract to a consortium of Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) to build five Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles.

India’s space policy was praised by Anirdhu Sharma, CEO of Digantara, a startup that focuses on space weather and debris tracking.

“With the Indian Space Policy 2023, the Indian government has taken a step in the right direction for creating a conducive environment for private space actors,” Sharma told The Economic Times. “At the outset, it signifies the growing interest of the Indian government toward private sector participation in the space industry as well as developing indigenous capabilities in critical domains, such as space situational awareness.”

India’s effort to open up its space sector to private companies has begun to bear fruit over the past three years.

Last November, Skyroot Aerospace became the first Indian company to launch a privately-built rocket. The Vikram-S reached an altitude of 55.6 miles (89.5 km). The company is developing a family of orbital Vikram rockets to launch small satellites.

Pixxel is developing a constellation of 30 hyperspectral imaging satellites. Two of the company’s spacecraft have already been launched into orbit.

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