In an international context, the space sector has moved from the times of monopolised government presence to globally the space industry exceeding the government investments made in space. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) currently uses its commercial arm Antrix Corporation its principal to commercialise technologies and capacities in the international market. Although Antrix is growing at 10-15% every year, it still only clocks revenues of about $200 million[i] in a global space market of $200 billion.
To make business sense, it is important to note that Antrix Corporation completely depends on ISRO’s resources including manpower, infrastructure. With ISRO having a backlog of transponders and having to complete missions of national interest, the ability of Antrix to scale in the international market to provide turnkey solutions for especially satellite development reduces immensely as national requirements laid upon ISRO shall supersede. This also means that any scaling of business within Antrix will need to translate into ISRO recruiting much more manpower and increasing its capacities to accommodate his demand. Some of these decisions will then have to undergo cabinet approvals therefore translating into longer decision chains and gestation periods.
In the current form, Antrix’s portion of revenues are from conducting launch activities for foreign satellites. However, given the limited launches that ISRO is able to conduct year on year, the scale of revenues India can capture in the space transportation market still remains a small fraction of the global space transportation market. Is there a case here for establishing a commercial space port in India that is independent of Sriharikota and shall see the commercial production of the ISRO workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) by the Indian industry? Can there be a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that can be created on similar lines to Ariane Space to explore such a possibility?
In order to be able to even debate and discuss these topics and their viability within the Government or to make specific recommendations to the Government, there needs to be a foundation that facilitates such a topical discussion. It is more important that this foundation remain without any conflict of interest in order to make recommendations to the Government of India. While the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) does make such assessments and recommendations, they are retrospective to the programmes pursued by the Department of Space. With no particular dedicated, independent think-tank for space related activities or a dedicated roadmap within ISRO for commercial space in India, there is a need to establish an ‘Office of Space Commerce’ that is independent of ISRO.
The ‘Office of Space Commerce’ may be a principal unit under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India. The same department is in-charge of the much talked about ‘Make in India’ campaign, which also lists Space as a priority sector.[ii]
Such a template is already present in the United States (U.S) with the Department of Commerce created ‘Office of Space Commercialization’, legislatively established under Section 8 of the Technology Administration Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-309, as amended) by the U.S. Congress as a principal unit for its space commerce policy activities, with a mission is to foster the conditions for the economic growth and technological advancement of the U.S. commercial space industry.[iii]
In 2007, the Office of Space Commercialization put out a ‘Strategic Plan’ to ensure U.S leadership in space commerce.[iv] The strategic plan describes the functions of the Office of Commercialization that can be very well be adopted to foster space commerce in India with functions as
- Coordinate space commerce policy issues and actions within the Government of India departments and offices that have a say in space activities including Department of Space [including Space Commission], Department of Telecommunication [including the Wireless Planning Commission], Department of Defence [including Integrated Defence Staff] etc.
- Represent the Department of Industry Policy and Promotion in the negotiations with foreign countries to promote space commerce.
- Assist commercial space companies in their efforts to do business with the Government of India, and act as industry’s advocate within the Executive Branch to ensure the Government meets its space-related requirements, to the maximum practical extent, with commercially available space goods and services, consistent with national security.
- Work to ensure the Government of India does not engage in space-related activities that preclude, deter, or compete with commercial space activities unless required by national security or public safety.
- Promote and coordinate increased Indian private sector participation in the design and development of Government space systems and infrastructures, and encourage Department of Space agencies to make space activities, technology, and infrastructure available for private use to the maximum practical extent.
- Seek the removal of legal, policy, and institutional impediments to space commerce.
- Promote growth in the export of space related goods and services and advocate free and fair trade practices in space commerce.
- Collect, analyse, and disseminate information on space markets, and conduct workshops and seminars to increase awareness of opportunities to promote private sector investment in space commerce.
Ultimately, it is important to recognize that the goal is to create not only a robust commercial space industry here in India that is internationally competitive, which is responsive to the national requirements, but a channel for creating an informed Government of India that is responsive and a voice that can reach out to the general public and the investment community of India, in keeping them informed about the market opportunities in space commerce.
[i] T. E. Narasimhan, “Isro to Launch 5 Satellites for Antrix This Month,” Business Standard India, June 13, 2014, http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/isro-to-launch-5-satellites-for-antrix-this-month-114061300487_1.html.
[ii] “Make in India,” accessed July 20, 2015, http://www.makeinindia.com/.
[iii] “Office of Space Commercialization,” accessed July 20, 2015, http://www.space.commerce.gov/about/mission/.
[iv] “Strategic Plan for U.S. Leadership In Space Commerce” (Office of Space Commercialization, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Strategic Plan), http://www.space.commerce.gov/wp-content/uploads/NOAA-2007-Space-Commercialization-Strategic-Plan-6-pages.pdf.
Narayan Prasad is the curator of NewSpace India and the co-founder of Dhruva Space; a Bengaluru based new space company established in 2012 with a vision to lead the turnkey satellite development industry in India. He is an EGIDE scholar, Erasmus Mundus SpaceMaster graduate currently analysing technology, economic and policy models of India for a NewSpace revolution.