On 27th December 2020 K. Sivan Chairman of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said that the organization was developing towards a ‘green propulsion’ technology, which is believed to be less harmful to the environment. This is mainly being designed for the human spaceflight missions. Delivering his speech in the 16th annual convocation of the SRM Institute of Science and Technology (SRMIST), that was held virtually, he said that there is a possibility in future where all propulsion stages adopt green propulsion.
ISRO had recently said that India’s first human spaceflight mission, ‘Gaganyaan’ was experiencing delays due to the pandemic. Mr Sivan also mentioned about the technology transfer done by ISRO of its space-grade lithium-ion batteries to the industry. This would help in mass adoption for electric vehicles without being dependent on foreign technology. He also highlighted that the Central government’s space sector reforms would enable greater participation from the non-governmental agencies in space activities. The next PSLV launch of the ISRO would have satellites that come from the startups. The Centre’s Digital India initiative was a key area to leverage. ISRO has already initiated reforms to form digital assets available quickly to the industry and startups for creating innovative navigation applications, earth observation even as disaster management.
PSLV Rocket Launch
ISRO announced on 17th December 2020 that its PSLV- C50 rocket had successfully placed communication satellite CMS-01 into orbit. Mr Sivan told that the satellite was functioning very well and placed in a specified slot within the next four days. Despite the Covid- 19 pandemic situation, the team worked well. The communication satellite was envisaged for providing services in Extended-C Band of the frequency spectrum covering India, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands. It is the 42nd communication satellite of the space agency.
PSLV-C50 is that the 22nd flight of PSLV in ‘XL’ configuration (equipped with six strap-on motors), and it had been the 77th launch vehicle mission from Sriharikota which is about 120 km from Chennai. It follows the successful launch of PSLV-C49 (EOS-01) earth observation satellite and other nine customer spacecraft on 7th November which was ISRO’s first mission of the year amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
India’ Space Policy
As India gets ready for a replacement space policy, private players involve regulatory changes including single-window clearance and a time cap on deciding, moves they feel will grow their confidence within the space sector. Experts say that the new space policy can usher in many leading-edge technologies to the segment and can also pave the way for joint ventures, benefitting initiatives like Make in India, and Digital India, even as bringing more significant investment into startups and growing the involvement of larger corporates within the sector.
Narayan Prasad, the chief operations officer at Satsearch, a marketplace for the space industry, said that if the policy changes are carefully architected, they will help build the confidence of the private sector and encourage more investments from their side. This, in turn, will provide an end-to-end solution to both upstream and downstream of the space industry value chain. He also added that these policy changes would bring in more significant investments into startups, bringing in the involvement of big corporates like Tatas and Mahindra etc., into space and will eventually increase job creation. It will also help in plugging the Indian space industry into a worldwide one. ISRO has already begun with several new draft policies like Satcom, remote sensing, technology transfer etc. To date, there had been no clarity on the space policy within the country. Taking the satellite industry, every satellite company must have a frequency allocation license from a national body that coordinates the frequency allocation at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). For the US it’s the FCC that does it. But in India, there was no clarity till now on how a personal satellite operator would set about doing that, whether it’s the Department of Telecommunications that must allocate the frequencies, the Department of Space, or another department.
Private players have felt that the new Satcom policy is undoubtedly a step within the right direction given India’s massive market size for Satcom connectivity. Experts say that clear time caps on the permissions and authorizations and a transparent timeline on behalf of the autonomous body INSpace should offer domestic ventures an opportunity against global competition. as an example, One Web (in which Bharti Airtel owns an outsized stake) as an example, already faces severe competition from SpaceX’s Starlink which is already rolling out user terminals. “Private industry can help India mature leading-edge technologies in space communication. GSAT 29 was the primary Indian satellite by ISRO to possess an optical payload. the subsequent step would be inter-satellite laser links given the increasing congestion in radio bands communication with several constellations with many satellites lined up. Private participation, facilitated by the new Satcom policy via larger private investments, can help development during this direction,” said Rachana Reddy, satellite engineer based out of Germany.
Startups collaboration with ISRO
With a significant boost for the private enterprises working in the space sector, India’s national space agency has signed multiple partnerships with Tech startups to mentor and support them. The department of Space (DoS), on 3rd December 2020, signed a non-disclosure agreement with IIT Madras startup Agnikul Cosmos, a maker of launch vehicles. Agnikul became the first company to sign a pact with the ISRO under that newly proposed Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre, a body set up to enable private players and undertake space activities in India. “We encourage new players such as Agnikul to explore disruptive technologies and break away from the conventional methods of the manufacturing launch vehicle,” said Mr Sivan.
After Bengaluru-based satellite imaging startup Pixxel joined hands with NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) for launching its satellite, Indian space agency ISRO announced that Pixxel’s first satellite Anand is going to be launched in its PSLV-C51 (polar satellite launch vehicle) mission in early 2021. Taking to Twitter, the space agency said that the upcoming PSLV mission is unique because it’ll be launching Anand from its Firefly fleet of earth observation satellites. Pixel, which was a part of YourStory Tech30 this year, was founded in 2019 by Awais Ahmed and Kshitij Khandelwal for building a constellation of about 30 Earth-imaging small satellites to be deployed within the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) to watch the earth 24×7 and supply data to enable organizations across the planet to detect, monitor, and predict global phenomena in real-time.
To encourage and support the private players and startups, IN-Space, an authorization and regulatory body was established under the Department of Space (DOS), to enable private players to undertake space activities in India. Apart from this, two more satellites including ‘SATISH SAT’ by ‘Space Kids India’, and ‘UNIT-SAT’ by a consortium of universities also will be launched as a neighbourhood of the PSLV-C51 mission. Consistent with an IANS report, aside from the three satellites by Indian private players, the first payload of PSLV-C51 will be a Brazilian earth observation satellite named Amazonia.
Future Space Reforms
Sivan said more room policy reforms would enable a fair and equitable playing field for personal players. He added that although IN-Space will be operational only in 3-6 months, private companies can apply to be used of ISRO facilities and knowledge transfer beginning immediately through the Department of Space website. Many startups have already approached ISRO, and their requests are being processed, he said.
An additional reform that was announced was the recalibration of the role of NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the new arm of ISRO that was found out last year with the target of enabling industry participation in space, primarily in launch vehicle construction. It will now function on a “demand-driven model” rather than a “supply-driven model”, said Sivan, echoing Singh within the Cabinet on Wednesday. Sivan explained that NSIL will now take over the functioning of operational launch vehicles, satellites, commercial applications, and more while executing its duties through “industrial consortiums.” NSIL also will undertake technology transfer activities, he added. Mr Sivan also said that the new structural reforms won’t reduce the activities of ISRO, which can still engage in advanced R&D, planetary missions, human spaceflight, and capacity-building. ISRO will fully support the private sector, he said, saying that more details on the way forward will be announced during a week after an industry promotion meets with stakeholders. Opening up ISRO’s facilities and knowledge to the private sector will enable the country to transition to a replacement space era, spurring innovation from the youth, said Sivan. It’ll end in the accelerated growth of the space sector and its benefits and enable the industry to be a crucial player in global space economics.
With these announcements, India now stands on the cusp of building an area ecosystem with ISRO being the guiding body, large enterprise and conglomerates diversifying into the world, pulling up the worth chain- the SMEs to supply sub-assemblies. With startups and technology innovators, India can now evolve as an area startup hub for the planet. Industry estimates over 40+ startups are working in India with funding, teams and structure on space and satellite projects complementing the govt, ISRO, VSSC et al. This number is probably going to extend this is often where technology will play an enormous role.