BAKU, Azerbaijan — The Indian government is continuing a series of reforms aimed at increasing private involvement in the space sector and attracting global capital.
“A transition is happening in India. We are moving from ISRO being the sole player in the space sector to the private sector taking on a more meaningful role,” Pawan Goenka, chairman of the Indian National Space Promotion Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), said at a forum at the 74th International Astronautical Congress in Baku, Oct. 5.
The Indian government approved the Indian Space Policy 2023 in April this year, which follows a number of developments in recent years.
“What the Indian Space Policy did was take everything to do with space — satellite communication, remote sensing, space operations, transportation, navigation, everything — and put it into one comprehensive document only 12 pages long,” Goenka said.
The reforms define clearer roles for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), IN-SPACe, and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), while also removing barriers to participation for non-government entities. ISRO will continue as a civil space agency, focusing on research and development of advanced space technologies and areas including human spaceflight, while IN-SPACe will regulate and authorize space activities in India, nurture startups and facilitate cooperation with ISRO.
The policy has removed almost all restrictions on the private sector to participate in the space sector in India, which was earlier almost inaccessible. Building rockets, launching, owning and operating satellites, developing services and acquiring and disseminating Earth observation data are now all permissible.
Furthermore, India is also set to finalize a new foreign direct investment (FDI) policy for the space sector. This is expected to liberalize rules for foreign ownership in a bid to attract global investment, and will affect areas including satellite manufacturing, ground segment, launch vehicles, subsystems and more.
While these measures are broad in scope, India has specific areas in mind in which the country can look to build, according to Goenka.
A decadal vision and strategy for the Indian space economy is set to be released in the coming days. This will set a target for where India sees itself in 10 years in terms of space economy, and where the focus of efforts will be put.
“Currently, the Indian Space economy is measured at about eight billion dollars, which is only about 2% of the global space economy,” says Goenka. He however states that the country has aspirations to increase that multifold.
“There are a few things that we think India can have a competitive advantage in. The first one in manufacturing, which is that India can become a small satellite manufacturing hub.”
Goenka also says the country can become “pretty big in small launch vehicles,” and in launching low Earth orbit constellations. He also noted ground station services, Earth observation data and space applications as other areas of potential growth.
Goenka enumerates several advantages that can bolster India’s position in these areas: new institutional support, state-level policies, a vast domestic market, a high number of STEM graduates, and competitive labor costs. These he says can ultimately grow India’s share of the global space economy.