Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks during the Oct. 11 launching ceremony of the Indian Space Association (ISpA) in this still image captured from YouTube.

SEOUL, South Korea — Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Oct. 11 his government will widen cooperation with industry, young innovators and startups to bring about “exponential innovation” in the country’s space sector. To that end, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will share its expertise and R&D facilities with the private sector.

Modi unveiled this plan in a speech marking the launch of the Indian Space Association (ISpA), an industry association of space and satellite companies, which aspires to be the collective voice of the Indian space industry. ISpA will undertake policy advocacy and engage with all stakeholders in the Indian space domain, including the government and its agencies, according to local reports published in English.

Its founding members include OneWeb, Larson & Toubro, Nelco, Bharti Airtel, Mapmyindia, and Walchandnagar Industries and Ananth Technology Ltd. Other core members include Godrej, Hughes India, Azista-BST Aerospace Private Limited, BEL, Centum Electronics, Maxar India.

ISpA’s inaugural director-general is retired Indian Army Lt. Gen. Anil Bhatt.

“Earlier, the space sector was synonymous with government. We changed this mindset, brought in innovation in the space sector and gave the mantra of cooperation between government and startups,” Modi said in the speech, which live streamed on YouTube. “This new outlook is important because it is not the time for linear innovation for India, but for exponential innovation. This can only be made possible when the government plays the role of an enabler and not a handler.”

“As a partner,” the prime minister said, the government will enable private players to access public platforms where entrepreneurs can come up with unique solutions.

“From the defense to space sector, the government is sharing its expertise, providing a launch pad for the private sector and ISRO’s facilities are being opened,” Modi said. “We will ensure that technology that has matured in the sector is transferred to private companies, and the government will act as an aggregator for space assets.”

OneWeb looking to India for launches

Meanwhile, OneWeb — which counts India’s Bharti Global as its largest shareholder — announced a letter of intent Oct. 11 with NewSpace India Limited, the commercial arm of India’s space agency ISRO, to launch OneWeb satellites on PSLV and GSLV Mark 3 rockets as soon as 2022. The letter is non-binding, but OneWeb said it and NewSpace India would work to turn it into a binding contract. OneWeb is deploying its initial constellation using Soyuz rockets through a contract with Arianespace. 

OneWeb’s letter of intent was highlighted during Modi’s event. “We are delighted to have OneWeb looking into how our launch capabilities can help meet their global ambition to connect people everywhere,” said ISRO Chairman K. Sivan. “We are making tremendous progress and India is advancing its space capabilities and we look forward to working together.”

Park Si-soo covers space industries in South Korea, Japan and other Asian countries. Park worked at The Korea Times — South Korea's leading English language newspaper — from 2007 to 2020. He earned a master’s degree in science journalism from Korea...