The Indian government released its much-awaited Indian Space Policy 2023 on April 21, more than a week after it was officially approved by the Cabinet.
In it, the government specifically lays down the role of several government bodies, such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Department of Space, apart from specifying the role non-governmental entities (NGEs) — a term for private players in the space sector — will play in India’s space ecosystem.
To recap, the space policy follows the opening up of the ecosystem in 2020 by the Indian government, following which several space-tech start-ups have mushroomed in the country, culminating in multiple launches by such players in 2022 and 2023.
Such spacetech players have long been seeking regulatory certainty, and this policy aims to address that demand.
Let’s take a closer look at what the Indian Space Policy says about private players, ISRO’s role for the future, and the strategy to boost to India’s space capabilities:
What does the policy say about what private space players can do?
In its essence, the policy allows NGEs to take up end-to-end activities in the space sector by establishing operations of objects in space (such as satellites etc), ground-based assets and so on. Their operations will be subject to guidelines prescribed by the Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which, in the couple of years since its establishment, has turned out to be a focal point for interactions between the government and private players when it comes to space activities.
Specifically, the policy says that private players can use Indian orbital resources to establish space objects for communication services; establish and operate remote sensing satellites within and outside India; and manufacture and operate space transportation systems, including launch vehicles etc
Can Indian private players ‘own’ space resources such as asteroids etc?
Yes. According to the Indian Space Policy, NGEs can engage in commercial recovery of an asteroid or a space resource. “Any NGE engaged in such a process shall be entitled to possess, own, transport, use and sell any such asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of India,” the policy stated.
What does the policy say about ISRO’s role?
In what is being welcomed by stakeholders in the space industry, the policy states that the nation’s premier space organisation’s primary focus would be on research and development of new space technologies and applications.
The space policy makes an important mention on the role of ISRO, stating that the organisation would transition from the existing practice of manufacturing operational space systems. From now on, the policy says, those systems will be transferred to industries and “ISRO shall focus on R&D in advanced technology proving newer systems of space objects for meeting national prerogatives”.
Does the policy mention anything about manned space missions?
The space policy says that the ISRO has to demonstrate human spaceflight capability and “develop a long term road-map for sustained human presence in space”. ISRO has been working to demonstrate the capabilities of its Gaganyaan (human spaceflight) mission by the end of 2023.
What about finding life on other planets such as, say, Mars?
Specifically, no. But the policy says that ISRO has to “undertake studies and missions on in-situ (in the original place) resource utilisation, celestial prospecting and other aspects of extra-terrestrial habitability”.
Why is the mention of IN-SPACe in the policy important?
Established in 2020, In-SPACE is a single-window autonomous agency under the Department of Space. Although it has turned out to be crucial for space tech start-up players in all things related to permissions, integrations, launches and so on, industry players have often highlighted the lack of a legislative mandate of IN-SPACe.
Now, they have a reason to rejoice as the space policy clarifies the responsibilities of this body. Although other aspects such as organisation structure, appointments, tenure etc is still not clear.
What does the policy say in terms of IN-SPACe’s responsibilities?
Firstly, IN-SPACe will provide authorisations to both government bodies and NGEs for space activities, such as establishment and/or operation of space objects, launch of rockets, establishment of launchpads, planned re-entry of space objects, and so on.
On the promotion side, it will work with space sector-centric industry clusters, work towards establishing India as a preferred service provider for foreign requirements of products and services, work with academia to enable industry-academia linkages, and so on.
It will also define frameworks for developing space industry standards, based on global standards. IN-SPACe will authorise the use of space objects for communication/broadcast services in coordination with the departments concerned.
How will IN-SPACe facilitate private player participation in space activities?
IN-SPACe will “ensure a level playing field for the utilisation of all facilities created using public expenditure, by prioritising their use among Government entities and NGEs. For this, IN-SPACe will formulate appropriate procedures for prioritisation, and the decisions of IN-SPACe shall be binding on the operators of such facilities”.
Apart from that, the policy states that the body will incentivise NGEs that acquire new orbital resources through filings in the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and so on.
What will the Department of Space do?
The policy states that the department will be responsible for implementation of the Indian Space Policy. It will also ensure different stakeholders mentioned in the policy are empowered to take on their responsibilities “without overlapping into others’ domains”.
Importantly, the DoS will also be responsible for ensuring sustenance of existing and future satellite constellations and ground segments. It will also “establish framework to ensure safe and sustainable space operation, in compliance with relevant international space debris mitigation guidelines”.
The problem of space debris has grown to such a level that it threatens the sustenance of existing satellites. Last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution wherein it expressed concern about space debris, and termed it as the “most significant threat to the space environment”.
What is NewSpace India Limited’s role, as per this policy?
NSIL, which is the commercial arm of ISRO, will be responsible for commercialising space technologies and platforms created through public expenditure. It will also manufacture, lease, or procure space components, and service the space-based needs of users, the policy added.