The Department of Space recently released a draft for a new space policy, that eased the regulations on private entities to participate in space-based activities.
The policy wants to promote the participation of the private industry in India to provide space-based communication, both within the country and outside, to fulfil the increasing demand for satellite bandwidth.
The government thinks that private entities can play a significant role in addressing the growing demand within India and also use the opportunity to make a mark in the international space communication market.
The article discusses what doors the policy opened for private companies and the possible socio-economic implications for India.
Benefits of including private players
Until now, the private sector largely worked in a subcontractor role with ISRO, and there was no independent actor outside the public sector.
However, if the new policy is passed, private companies will be allowed to establish and operate satellite systems to provide capacity for communication.
They will also allow procuring non-Indian orbital resources to build their space-based systems for communication services in and outside India. Alongside, ISRO will make its facilities and other relevant assets available to improve their capacities.
The authorisation for this, however, will be overlooked by a government regulator IN-SPACe — a regulatory body under the Department of Space.
Positive outcomes of the policy
To harness the enormous potential of space opportunities both domestically and worldwide, the Indian space economy needs to scale up.
There are a lot of untapped potentials that the space industry can explore given the increasing number of internet users in India. Experts also argue that in order to cater to this increasing demand, it is imperative to look beyond the traditional modes of internet delivery and look for space-based solutions.
With the given infrastructure and knowledge already available through India’s space program and the vast amount of potential and resources the private sector has to offer, the new policy could help the space industry to grow and fill in the communication infrastructure deficit.
Private players in India and abroad are already looking forward to participating. As a matter of fact, AWS, Amazon’s cloud arm, has recently announced a new business segment ‘Aerospace and Satellite Solutions’ to overlook the innovations in the satellite industry. Alongside, Indian firms like Sankhya labs is also looking forward to investing.
At the same time, the availability and demonstration of emerging technologies have a great significance in defining the modern-day geopolitics. Hence, given the current geopolitical situation of the country and the security threats, growth in the space sector can help the country gain leverage over others.
Negative consequences of the policy
Space technology is expensive and needs heavy investment. This kind of lucrative power is available only with selected rich corporates, thus can lead to monopolisation of the sector.
Also, IN-SPACe’s role has been defined as a government regulator, ‘to provide a level-playing field’ for everyone. However, in the past, this has resulted in the governments favouring the private sector over the public sector or leaning towards specific private brands.
ISRO, since its inception, has always aimed to work on projects that can help India become self-reliant. The space program always worked on applications like remote sensing, tracking of land use, resource mapping, among others. However, private companies will have more profitable interests than developing solutions that cater to the immediate socio-economic needs of the country.
Hence, if a situation were to arise where private companies are establishing space monopoly or gain unfair advantages from government regulators, space applications for social development will take a backseat and the public sector may not survive or slowly become irrelevant.
The telecommunication sector is a case in point.
India has successfully demonstrated its abilities to carry out space research and projects. With this proposed new policy for space, India wants to tap into the private sector, which could help the industry grow. While that is the case, unregulated participation of the private industry in the space sector will not only have socio-economic repercussions but also might end up undermining the work that ISRO has been successfully doing for over five decades.
Since private space activities will significantly increase if the policy is accepted, India needs to develop a robust legislative framework for space to ensure sustainable and inclusive growth.