With a positive outlook and a commercial manoeuvre, it looks like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is becoming a facilitator. The space agency is looking towards the private sector to play a more prominent role in space technology. Despite the economic gut punch thrown by the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021-22 budget did not slash the space sector’s funding; instead it gave the sector a 3.48% increase.
The funds of New Space India Limited, the ISRO’s commercial arm, have increased by 138 times. The government aims to generate revenue from the intellectual property of ISRO and add it as a crucial sector of the Indian economy.
The global space economy is set at $360 billion, of which India's space industry currently accounts for about 2% at $7 billion.
ISRO Working Closely with Space Start-ups
To consolidate India’s potential in the aerospace industry, the government is now turning to start-ups. As ISRO is indulging with several start-ups, agencies within the Ministry of Science and Technology, namely the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC) and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Aerospace Laboratories (CSIR-NAL), are also working towards the same goal of promoting start-ups. The two agencies are setting up an innovation incubator with external private funding to help develop new aerospace businesses.
The government will control, incubate and help guide start-ups develop their products and services about space tech. And the collaboration further will help create employment opportunities for young people. This move will undoubtedly strengthen the Aatmanirbhar Bharat programme which is the government’s flagship growth model for this decade.
Who Are the Space Players in India?
Indian start-up Agnikul Cosmos is the world’s first company to test a fully 3D printed rocket motor. Agnikul was the first Indian start-up to enter into a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the Department of Space (DOS) and the recently established Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to conduct joint space research and programmes.
The Hyderabad-based space start-up Skyroot Aerospace was founded in 2018 by former ISRO scientists to build space launch vehicles. Skyroot and ISRO are working together to develop a fixed-launch rocket that can be used to launch satellites into a lower orbit and create a private space ecosystem. Skyroot has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Space Ministry to access ISRO facilities and technical expertise to build the rocket.
Bellatrix Aerospace is a private space company in India and was launched in 2015. The company plans to launch rockets and satellites for domestic and global markets. It has signed a memorandum of understanding with ISRO to promote India’s space engineering efforts. According to the contract, the Orbital Transfer Vehicle (OTV) developed by Bellatrix will be used on the Vikram launcher’s upper tiers developed by Skyroot. An OTV is a spacecraft that can carry loads in a specific orbit so that the launcher can transmit satellites into orbit.
Pixxel is another space technology start-up that aims to place 30 Earth observation microsatellite constellations in the solar synchronous orbit. ISRO plans to launch the first Brazilian satellite, Amazonia-1, and three Indian payloads, including Pixxel’s first satellite- Anand, on February 28, 2021.
To increase the country’s space sector potential, the government’s landmark decision to allow the private sector to use ISRO facilities and other related assets for enhancing their capabilities is undoubtedly going to pay manifold in future. In setting up the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), the government is setting a level playing field for private companies using India’s space infrastructure. This will strengthen ISRO’s commitment to start-ups and grow the space and technology industry as a critical economic domain.