Post Mortem

A new race to space

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/9/2020 12:21:34 PM IST

 In a historic decision, on June 24, 2020, the union government opened India’s space programs for private companies. Now the private sector can participate in the entire range of space-related activities. The newly formed Indian Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) will act as an arm of ISRO and help regulate and facilitate the Indian space sector. The private players will now be allowed to use ISRO’s scientific and technical resources, infrastructure, and data for their programmes. 

India accounted for merely 3% of the global $360 million space industry, of which only 2% is rockets and satellite launch. There was scarce participation from the private companies till now, which was primarily limited to the manufacturing and fabrication of components. 

Most sectors today, ranging from transport to weather to even agriculture, need satellite data and imageries to chalk out their future business plans. ISRO would have to grow ten folds to cater to the growing demands within India effectively. This inability of ISRO to satisfy the ever-increasing requirements has led to the need for private companies to share this load without compromising on the quality of the solutions.

This need of the hour and the timely change in the regulations has led to the introduction of a few startups who are leveraging their skill sets and ideas for a better future for India. 

Pixxel is India’s first private earth imaging company, working to provide affordable and round the clock real-time satellite imagery. Pixxel has raised $5 million seed funding from Light Speed, GrowX and is set to launch the first satellite by December this year from a Russian facility. Between December 2022 and June 2023, Pixxel has planned to launch a constellation of 30 satellites with the help of ISRO.

Skyroot, India’s first space launch startup, was founded two years ago by a rocket engineer team who previously worked at ISRO. The startup has raised $4.3 million to date and hopes to secure another $51 million in 2021. It will launch its first satellite, “Vikram-1,” in December 2021. They have reduced the engine’s mass by 50% and lead time for manufacturing by 80% using 3D print technology. Vikram-2 and Vikram-3 are planned to be launched around 2023 and hence compete with SpaceX. 

Astrome is a startup focusing on low internet connectivity in the rural area and different cities across India. It could potentially compete with SpaceX to work upon connectivity problems by beaming high bandwidth internet. At IISC, the 18-member team plans to launch 200 microsatellites by 2021 into space to provide the internet with 100GBps capacity via their patented MM technology.

Agnikul Cosmos, incubated in IIT Madras, aims to democratise small satellite launches and is looking forward to its first launch by 2022. Intending to launch vehicle-spaceport interfaces, the company has established itself as a leading rocket technology company. The company aims to provide rapid, agile, and low-cost access to space. ISRO is working on the launch of more massive satellites, while Agnikul targets the market where thousands of satellites of around 100kg are set to be launched across the world. 

From a million-dollar industry in the early ’20s, Space tech valuations have reached a whopping $ 360 Billion industry in 2019. The Indian Space economy is currently valued to be 2% of the global space economy.Indian space-tech ecosystem is a dark horse which is expected to increase its market share with a significant cost advantage, a large skilled human resource pool and high consumer-driven local demand for telecommunications.  There were merely five significant deals in India amounting to just $ 3.4 million. The downstream space sector consisting of satellite communication and application consisted of 68% and the upstream industry consisting of satellite propulsion, launch vehicle, a lunar rover-based application consisted of 32% of the investment. At present, the ISRO undertakes two to three major satellite launches a year. The Pillai committee recommended a greater role for private sector for using ISRO facilities for satellite launch taking the number of annual launch to 15.The downstream space segment consists of the application of satellites for communication, scientific research, weather forecasting, geological and oceanographic studies, disaster management, agricultural studies, and all products and services related to these areas. With the right use of data analytics capabilities coupled with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms, the data generated by remote sensing satellites can be of immense value for decision making. There is huge scope for the commercialisation of the ground operations like mission support, satellite broadband gateways and 5G backhauling.

Thefuture scope of public-private partnership is dependent on how well the two entities can work together to achieve a common goal. The need for the load-sharing has led to the change in the rules and regulations thereby leading to public-private partnership which seems to be giving satisfactory results at the moment; however various initiatives such as upskilling talent force, encouraging FDI, developing investor’s confidence and technological innovations etc., need to consistently increase which will require a perfect balance between the two entities. InSPACe is expected to be functional within the next few months.Even though the internal threats such as domination of profitability interests over society should be of prime importance, we cannot ignore the foreign threats at the same time.

The ambitions, current rate of raising funds and the technological advancements of the Start-ups along with considering affordability and agility will lead to significant growth opportunities in the Indian space arena in the upcoming future and will help the start-ups to take the legacy of ISRO further, thereby strengthening India’s position in the space sector. The estimated growth in the space sector, prior to involving the private entities was 5 % by 2023; however, considering the current scenario, the new growth estimate is 7% by 2023.

Therefore, it is more about the uniting, evolving, advancing, spreading peace and fighting against our enemy, if need be. So, let us win over the internal conflicts and secure our motherland by winning the race to space.

Maitreyi Shaklya

DMS, IIT Delhi

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