In the year 2020, the Government of India announced a major transformation of the Indian space sector with the aim of enhanced participation of private players in Indian space programme. This was followed by the establishment of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre ("IN-SPACe") through a decision of the Cabinet on June 24, 2020, with the objective of authorizing and regulating activities of the non-government entities ("NGEs") including the space-tech startups in space sector, through detailed guidelines and procedures. IN-SPACe was set up as an autonomous body under Department of Space ("DoS"), to create an eco-system of industry, academia, and start-ups and to attract major share in the global space economy.
In line with these space reforms, the Government has ushered in the Indian Space Policy 2023i ("Space Policy") with an aim to provide regulatory certainty to the space activities by various stakeholders and create a thriving space ecosystem. On April 6, 2023, the Union Cabinet approved the Space Policy which was subsequently published by the Indian Space Research Organisation ("ISRO") on April 20, 2023.
Indian space initiative has come a long way from the first Satellite Communication Policy ("SATCOM Policy") brought by DoS in 1997 followed by the norms, guidelines, and procedure for implementation of the Policy in 2000. The SATCOM Policy had intended to develop a strong satellite communication service industry in India with the entry of private sector in both broadcasting and telecommunications. However, the overall restrictive and cautious nature in implementation of the SATCOM Policy citing national security, multiple levels of approvals required, lack of availability of coordinated orbital slots/resources, delays in coordination of uncoordinated orbital slots made it difficult for private parties to set up Indian satellite systems.
Hopefully, this is expected to change with the new Space Policy which inter-alia envisions the creation of an ecosystem for effective implementation of space applications among all stakeholders for the nation's socio-economic development and security, protection of environment and lives, pursuing peaceful exploration of outer space, stimulation of public awareness and scientific quest.
The Space Policy has been announced at a time when according to the Morgan Stanley's Space Team, the current USD 350 billion global space industry is expected to increase to USD 1 trillion by 2040. The Space Policy enables the Indian consumers of space technology or services to directly procure these services from any source, including NGEs and nudges the Indian private space sector to capture a large share of this market.
Applicability: The Space Policy will be applicable to any space activity to or from Indian territory or within the jurisdiction of India including the area up to the limit of its exclusive economic zone. However, the Government may provide exemptions from provisions of the Space Policy on a case-to-case basis. Under the Space Policy, the government's focus would include encouraging research and development in the space sector with a view to augment the space program of India; providing public goods and services using space technologies; and promotion of space-related education and innovation, including support to start-ups in this sector.
Roles and Responsibilities: The Space Policy delineates the roles and responsibilities of the Government, NGEs, IN-SPACe, ISRO, and the NewSpace India Limitedii ("NSIL") which is a public sector undertaking under DoS, as under:
- NGEs: The Space Policy allows the NGEsiii to undertake end-to-end activities in space domain and undertake any other commercial space activity as prescribed by IN-SPACe. To this extent, NGEs would be encouraged to:
- offer national and international space-based communication services through self-owned or procured or leased Geo-Stationary Orbit ("GSO")/Non Geo-Stationary Orbit ("NGSO") communication satellites;
- establish and operate ground facilities for space objects operations, such as Telemetry, Tracking & Command ("TT&C"), Earth Stations and satellite control centres ("SCCs");
- use Indian Orbital Resourcesiv and/or Non-Indian orbital resourcesv to establish space objects for communication services over India and outside India;
- make new filings with the International Telecommunication Union ("ITU") through the Wireless Planning and Coordination ("WPC")/ Department of Telecommunications ("DoT") to acquire orbital resources and also make filings through non-Indian administrations;
- disseminate satellite-based remote sensing data as well as applications based on such data in India and/or outside;
- develop and commercialise technologies and applications for enhancing and augmenting the satellite navigation, communication and remote-sensing developed and provided by the Government;
- manufacture and operate space transportation systems, including launch vehicles, shuttles, etc. as well as design and develop reusable, recoverable and reconfigurable technologies and systems for space transportation; and
- develop space situational awareness capabilities for enhancing observation, modelling and analysis and provide end-to-end services for safe operations and maintenance in space etc.
The Space Policy is progressive to recognise the right of NGEs to engage in the commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource and 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.
- IN-SPACe: IN-SPACe would act as the single window agency in DoS for authorising various space activities by the Government entities and NGEs such as the establishment/operations of space objects; launch and operation of launch vehicles; establishment and operation of launch pads which could be leased, or self-owned; planned re-entry (with or without recovery) of space objects; establishment and operation of TT&C Earth Stations; establishment and operation of SCCs/ satellite data reception stations; dissemination of high-resolution space-based earth observation data; in-orbit sale/purchase/ transfer of space object and any other authorisation as may be required.
- ISRO: Under the Space Policy, ISRO will transition from the existing practice of being present in the manufacturing of operational space systems and shift its focus on research and development (R&D) in advanced technology, proving newer systems and realization of space objects for meeting national prerogatives and for expanding the human understanding of outer space. For private and public participants in the space sector, the space agency will enable "free and open" data access from its remote sensing satellites of GSD of 5 meters and higher while remote sensing data of GSD of less than 5 meter, shall be made available free of any charges to Government entities but at fair and transparent pricing to NGEs.
- NSIL: As the commercial arm of ISRO, NSIL is entrusted with servicing the space-based needs of users, whether Government entities or NGEs, on sound commercial principles. NSIL will also be responsible for commercialising space technologies and platforms created through public expenditure. In addition, it would also manufacture, lease, or procure space components, technologies, platforms and other assets from private or public sector, on sound commercial principles.
- DoS: The DoS would be the nodal department for implementation of the overall Space Policy and overseeing the distribution of responsibilities among the stakeholders and ensure that the different stakeholders are suitably empowered to discharge their respective functions, without overlapping into the other's domain. DoS has been mandated to interpret and clarify any ambiguities arising in implementation of the Space Policy and create appropriate dispute resolution mechanism in relation to space activities.
The Space Policy is a positive step by the Government which has recognized the need to harness the potential of private sector in meeting the growing demands for space-based activities and services. Apart from providing clarity in defining the contours within which the various stakeholders would function, the Space Policy also gives an impetus to the private industry participation to fuel the space economy in India by allowing it to create new infrastructure in the space sector. This will be critical in ensuring that the Indian space program becomes more competitive and developed.
As per the recent government report, since the setting up of IN-SPACe in 2020, it has received more than 130 NGEs applications for undertaking space activities with space start-up and medium sized enterprises taking the lead. Many of these enterprises have received substantial foreign investments paving the way for launch of private made rocket on a sub-orbital flight (by Skyroot Aerospace) followed by a successful test firing of a second stage semi-cryogenic engine (by Agnikul Cosmos), demonstrating that with a little nudge and support from the government, Indian space tech eco-system can rapidly develop and forge international space tech partnerships and collaborations.
Additionally IN-SPACe has been working on the guidelines for implementation of the Space Policy in respect of different categories of authorizations that are expected to be issued and it has on June 30th shared the draft guidelines for few of the authorization categories for comments and suggestions of the industry.
More clarity and guidelines on spectrum allocation, foreign direct investment and orbital slot are still awaited. Nevertheless, the Space Policy has been largely welcomed by the industry players, especially the startups in India which are hopeful of witnessing an increase in investments.
iiThe Union Government had set up New Space India Limited (NSIL), a wholly owned Government of India undertaking/ Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE), under the administrative control of DoS on March 6, 2019, to commercially exploit the research and development work ISRO Centres and constituent units of DoS.
iii NGE" shall mean (i) a company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 or (ii) a partnership firm established under the Limited Liability Partnership Act, 2008, (iii) Trusts under the Indian Trusts Act 1882 (iv) Association of persons or body of individuals incorporated under relevant statutes in India;
iv"Orbital Resource" shall mean any GSO slot and/or NGSO along with the associated frequency spectrum and coverage acquired or in the process of being acquired through an appropriate ITU Filing;
"Indian Orbital Resource" shall mean any Orbital Resource acquired or in the process of being acquired by the Indian administration through an ITU Filing;
v "Non-Indian Orbital Resource" shall mean any Orbital Resource acquired or in the process of being acquired by any country other than India.
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