India opens up space to private companies

Government of India has today set up a new regulatory agency to encourage and regulate private sector space businesses, hitherto an almost no-go area for private companies in India.

This follows the first global use of a privately made rocket to send astronauts to the International Space Station by US authorities in the shape of Falcon 9 from SpaceX Corporation.

Jitendra Singh, minister of space and atomic energy, hinted that India too wants its companies to conquer the frontier of space.

He said the decision to set up Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center will prove to be a historic and momentous one.

“In a nutshell, we will have a new board called IN-SPACE, which will take care of what is known as private space entrepreneurs,” Singh said, explaining the Cabinet of India’s decisions today.

The aim is to three-fold: To utilize India’s existing space infrastructure — including its rockets and satellites — to their maximum potential for benefiting Indians, to create a vibrant space industry, and finally, to create job opportunities for Indian space experts within the country, instead of forcing them to go abroad in search of opportunities and jobs.

Singh said Indian space research has been shrouded in secrecy and confidentiality for the last 70 years, resulting in the prevention of the emergence of any private sector, space-focused company.

“Our space expertise was limited to a handful of scientists working with ISRO,” Singh said. But meanwhile, more and more Indians wants to work in this field, and India’s own home-grown space expertise and infrastructure too has increased.

“We felt that there was a need to break the structure in which it has been operating in for the last 70 years,” he said, pointing out that the government had, two years ago, set up a committee to look into how space technology can be used to increase ease of living.

He gave the example of ISRO’s space training center at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, which offers a regular course in space technology.

“Trivandrum space center has 100% job placement and 60-70% are finding jobs abroad. This will be an attempt to block the brain drain,” Singh said.

Another aim is to increase the efficiency of utilization of India’s current space assets.

“We’ve built up a lot of space assets, and now these assets will be opened up for use by everybody.

“This will not just be a budgetary facilitation, not just a human resource facilitation, but it will also be the opening up a new culture in the new India where we do not let our assets go away unused by our and is allowed to be used by other country. Instead, [they] will be put to use by our country in India to make in India.”


The key to growing a space industry will be to encourage entrepreneurship in this area, Singh said.

“One of the limitations [to growth in this sector] was that we were not allowing a level playing field, even though [technology and talent] was available from outside the department of space and outside the realms of ISRO,” Singh said.

The new agency, which will be tasked not just with regulating private entrepreneurship in space, has been tasked with providing “a level playing field for private participants to access Indian infrastructure.

“It will also guide private industry in space by encouraging policies and a friendly regulatory environment,” Singh said.

This will enhance the socio economic use of space activities, including access to space data and facilities, he added.

As part of the move, new posts will be created in the department of space, while some existing structures will be altered.

ISRO will be less concerned with commercial exploitation of the satellites and other technology, and more with “research and development”, Singh said.

The existing enterprise, New Space India Ltd, will be tasked with reorienting space activities from a supply driven model to a demand driven model.