Exploiting the Commercial Value of Space – An Indian Entrepreneur Perspective

Overview of Indian Space

In India, space activities were initiated in 1962, with the setting up of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR). Initially, space research was conducted in India mainly with the help of sounding rockets. Space research activities acquired prominence with the establishment of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1969 and the formation of Space Commission and Department of Space in 1972.

India, has effectively developed space technology and has applied it successfully for its rapid development and today is offering a variety of space services globally. One can describe the evolution of Indian Space Program as under:

  • 70s: Era of Experimentation
  • 80s: Era of Operationalization

During the operational phase in 90’s, major space infrastructure was created under two broad classes: one for the communication, broadcasting and meteorology through a multi-purpose Indian National Satellite system (INSAT), and the other for Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) system. The development and operationalisation of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and development of Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) were significant achievements during this phase.

ISRO’s long-term plan ‘Vision 2025’ for the Space Research Programme encompasses development of reusable launch vehicles, human space flights, enhanced imaging capability, satellite based communication, navigation systems and planetary exploration.

ISRO has so far carried out 74 spacecraft missions and 45 launch missions (as of July 2015); and currently has a constellation of 9 communication satellites, 1 meteorological satellite, 10 earth observation satellites and 1 scientific satellite. Following are highlights of ISRO:

  • PSLV is a highly successful launch vehicle which has launched 30 spacecrafts into a variety of orbital paths so far;
  • GSLV is an expendable launch system developed to enable India to launch its INSAT-type satellites into geostationary orbit;
  • Mars Orbiter Mission is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission to Mars. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) from ISRO has recently completed its 100th orbit around the Red Planet, marking yet another milestone for the country’s space efforts.

India now ranks among the top six space faring nations in the world in terms of budget and technological capabilities. India’s space budget accounts for approx. 0.14 percent of GDP. Almost half of the budget is focused on development and operation of launch vehicles and related activities. The remaining is devoted to space technology and applications including satellite operations.

Looking ahead

It may be appropriate here to recall the words of former President of India, Dr. APJ Kalam

“Mankind’s 21st century thrust into space would herald in the world’s next industrial revolution, which might be called the ‘Space Industrial Revolution’. This does not mean that the revolution will take place only in space; it essentially means the creation of architectural and revolutionary changes leading to new space markets, systems and technologies on a planetary scale.“

While what India is doing makes a lot of sense; this now needs to be converted into sound business sense. Hence, it is important to understand, review and analyse the commercial aspects that we are deliberating here. We must understand that while going to the Moon may not bring commercial value nevertheless it has a great impact on the economy.

Space offers enormous business opportunities and here, we must also realize that there is a shift from nations to commercial enterprises. Some of the examples being:

  • Space X – A private spaceflight company which docked with the International Space Station in May 2012 marked the beginning of this new era in a commercial space race;
  • Orbital  Science – was the second private  company to send a spacecraft to the space station;
  • Many other firms including Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and XCOR Aerospace are making their own rockets; and then
  • There are satellites such as Planet Labs, Skybox Imaging and Nanosatisfi, among other small firms which have taken on what was once the domain of Governments and big Corporations

What is also important to note is that:

  • Students also join the space race – Surrey University Space Center, U.K. blasted a rocket into orbit. Its payload: a smartphone, kitted out to do some basic research.
  • Generation Orbit (GO) a start-up based in Atlanta, is run by just a handful of young entrepreneurs/ seasoned aerospace veterans and specializes in providing dedicated launch services to the emerging market for tiny nanosatellites.

The space industry still has untapped potential for major industrial growth. In order for the space industry to fulfill this potential, it must provide commercial returns on when it will attract commercial capital investment.

  • With more nations realizing the strategic impact and economic potential of space, motivations for national space activity are not only about the fulfillment of ambitions but also about the development of an industry that can compete in a global market place.
  • The global space industry is experiencing  steady growth throughout – With the realization of economic potential in the space sector, there has been  steady increases in  both Space budgets by Governments  and  spending by the commercial sector, future prospects for generating value is  promising
  • Investment in the Space Industry has produced good returns. (i) Directly in the form of communications, remote sensing and many other capabilities and (ii) indirectly in the form of technological spin-offs, national prestige and scientific knowledge.

With so much of success in the space sector, India cannot afford to lag behind. India has to do a lot to efficiently utilize its resources and infrastructure and implement proper policy and program for commercialization of its space sector.

Towards this end, following suggestions are made:

  1. Explore “Make In India” Opportunities
    1. Effective use of infrastructure
    2. Encourage public-private-partnerships
    3. Exploit the rich  talent pool & increase operational efficiency
  2. Encourage Government–Industry–Academia Triad to enable core indigenous competence in critical areas
  3. Government or Industry sponsored competitions to develop new applications.
  4. Create leadership programmes
  5. Fund for young entrepreneurs
    • Fund should be independent of Government and encourage industry participation.
  6. Establish “Space Tech Park”
    • Look to models such as Skolkovo Foundation, Harwell Space Cluster, EU Foundation, NASA Program
  7. Policy – harmony in addressing national security & industry requirements
  8. Ease of doing business – Quick & Predictable responses and Government should act more as a facilitator.

The above will definitely provide both short-term and long-term benefits to the country.

We must work towards diversifying the Indian economy through innovation and entrepreneurship. In this context it may be worthwhile to look at a case study , which will clearly demonstrate as to how Innovation driven by competition provide better results.

Case Study: A $10M COMPETITION TO USHER IN A NEW ERA OF PRIVATE SPACE TRAVEL

On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne made the second of two sub-orbital flights in one week, claiming the elusive Ansari X-Prize. Funded by the Ansari family, the Ansari XPRIZE challenged teams from around the world to build a reliable, reusable, privately financed, manned spaceship capable of carrying three people to 100 kms above the Earth’s surface twice within two weeks. The prize was awarded in 2004 and along with it; a brand new private space industry was launched. The competition was launched in May 1996 and awarded on October 4, 2004. Altogether, 26 teams from 7 nations competed for the prize. The $10 million prize purse was awarded to the Mojave Aerospace Ventures team, led by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites, with financial backing from Paul Allen. The winning technology was licensed by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic and the prize competition itself launched a $2 billion private space industry.

To conclude

  • We must complement the success of India’s space program and we must understand that India has significant ground to cover in order to address major challenges and grab opportunities.
  • Space offers plenty of Business Opportunities. It’s all about enabling a new industry where we will be able to attract new talent and new investments, and see the technology transfer into other industries, and transform them.
  • Space is an industry of the future, and we need to be ready to deal with it properly.
  • The policy must provide lower barriers to entry which will attract more entrepreneurs enabling technological advancements and innovation leading to new applications.

We need to focus on the mission to realize our vision and develop human capital through research and provide value to partnerships. There is no better time than now to “Do It a Better Way”. The future is bright and let us make it right.

Author Profile

Govind is a co-founder and President at Aniara Space, a technology services company providing satellite-based solutions.  Aniara has initiated its own small GEO satellite program called “NexStar” utilizing a new-gen platform called “ATOM” developed jointly by Dauria Aerospace and Aniara. More @ http://www.aniara.co.in/