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Role of private sector in India’s Space programmes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Private space programs

Mains level : Indian private sector participation in space programmes.

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Context

  • The launch of the Vikram S (Mission Prarambh) rocket last week has been rightly hailed as an important milestone in India’s outer space journey. It is the first privately built Indian rocket to make it to space.

Private players in space sector

  • Lack of Enabling policy: The country’s private sector has the talent and experience to shorten that distance if Delhi creates the enabling policy environment.
  • Monopoly of Government: When space emerged as an important endeavour in the second half of the 20th century, governments were in the lead. The cost, complexity and research-intensity of the space effort meant the space programmes everywhere became a government monopoly.
  • Government can no longer ignore private players: But in the 21st century, the role of the private sector has dramatically expanded. Satellites were once owned only by governments but today private companies lead the satellite business.

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Major private players and their space endeavor

  • Starlink satellite system: Elon Musk’s Starlink satellite system is now a major player with more than 2,300 satellites in low earth orbit they deliver a variety of space services including useful military information to the armed forces of Ukraine in their fight against Russian forces.
  • Amazon’s Project Kuiper: Plans to launch more than 3,000 satellites in the coming years to offer a range of services, including broadband internet. This will involve making at least three satellites a day.
  • One-web cooperation: Airtel in India is a partner in the One-Web corporation that offers connectivity through its system of nearly 500 satellites.
  • Breaking the monopoly of Government: The business of launch vehicles the most demanding of space activities remained a state monopoly until recently. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has broken through that launch monopoly and Amazon’s Blue Origin rocket will soon be in the market too.

History of India’s space programme

  • Space for national development only: Delhi’s main objective was to leverage outer space to accelerate national development. Eventually, military and commercial dimensions began to envelop the Indian space programme.
  • Cooperation with Soviet Union: India’s space programme began with intensive cooperation with the Western countries and later with the Soviet Union. Delhi also offered space cooperation to other developing countries within the rubric of engagement with friendly governments.
  • Sanctions halted India’s progress: The non-proliferation sanctions on India after its first nuclear test in 1974 severely constricted the space for the country in international space cooperation. It was only after the historic civil nuclear initiative that the sanctions regime began to ease.

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What should be India’s future approach in space domain?

  • Commercially leveraging the space using MTCR: India is now part of the Missile Technology Control Regime that regulates commerce in space related commodities and technologies.
  • Dual use technology under Wassenaar Arrangement: India is also part of the Wassenaar Arrangement that controls trade in dual use technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.
  • The growing range of new space possibilities: From using satellites for delivering broadband internet to the mining of the Moon and from space manufacturing to deep space exploration. Put simply, the scale of the global economy is rapidly growing its value is expected to more than double from about $450 billion in 2022 to nearly one trillion dollars within a decade.
  • It must be about business and economy: For India, outer space can no longer be about narrowly framed ideas of “development” and “national prestige”. It must be about business and economy. The current Indian share of the global space economy is barely 2 per cent. PM Modi has been demanding that India rapidly increase its share to 8 per cent in the coming years.
  • The private sector companies for larger role: Raising the Indian share of the global space economy can only be done by drawing in the private sector companies to play a larger role. Consider, for example, The Artemis 1 rocket was launched last week and the programme involves a number of leading aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed, Northrop Grumman, Airbus and Space X.
  • International cooperation in national space programmes: If Apollo was a purely national project of the United States, the Artemis programme is a multinational endeavor between the US and its partners, including France, Canada, and Japan. Meanwhile Russia and China are coming together to collaborate not only on their space programmes, but also on building a joint base on the Moon that will establish long term human presence there.
  • Capital support for space programme: India has just about embarked on a programme to enhance the contribution of its private sector in outer space. India is also drawing on foreign capital to support its start-ups. Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund GIC, for example, is a major investor in Skyroot Aerospace that launched the Vikram S rocket.

Conclusion

  • Many Western aerospace companies will be eager to invest in India’s space programme as it begins to open up. India is also coming to terms with the fact that international cooperation is not just an “add-on” to the national space programme, but must be an integral part of India’s space strategy.

Mains Question

Q. 20th century was dominated by monopoly of government in space domain. Elaborate. How India can commercialize the space sector with help of private players?

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