“We want to create competition and get multiple companies in the space sector that can grow as global leaders,” Sivan said. Over 23 Indian and overseas companies have approached Isro since August seeking to harness assets built over six decades including rockets, satellites, ground stations and satellite imagery. The nodal agency is looking to transfer critical technologies through its commercial arm — New Space India Ltd (NSIL) — to these companies at lower costs.
“Space technology is costly. We want to make it viable for Indian industries and help them commercialise these technologies,” said Sivan. “We want to make the technology transfer a very simple and low-cost affair.”
Last week, NSIL signed a pact to share technology as well as to allow testing facilities with Chennai-based startup Agnikul Cosmos to build a small rocket that can hurl 100 kg satellites to low-earth orbit.
Bengaluru-based Pixxel, which is building India’s first private fleet of earth observation satellites, will launch its first satellite atop the homegrown polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV) in 2021.
So far, the department of space has released drafts of technology transfer policy, remote sensing and satellite communication policy for public comments. These draft policies state that Indian companies can now own and operate satellites, build rockets and launch them from Indian soil and offer satellite-based applications to consumers. The policies also define how sensitive dual-use technologies are to be utilised and stresses on the need for adherence to national and international laws.
“The industry players are able to see the sea change (in our policies). They are asking for clarifications on some of them,” said Sivan. He added the policies will be notified after consultations.
India is adopting the model of the US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which allowed private firms such as SpaceX to get access to its technology and facilities to build reusable rockets that have carried humans to space this year. NASA also allows startups to compete and build vehicles and solutions for its programmes, including deep space missions.
The policies are also designed to make India a global hub for satellite manufacturing and launches and providing satellite-based services for global customers. Hyderabad-based Aerospace firm Ananth Technologies is setting up a joint venture with US satellite operator Saturn Satellites, through which it will first build two communication satellites and launch them locally on an Indian rocket. Ananth is the first Indian private company to tap the global market after India opened up its space sector, which allows private firms to build satellites and rockets and offer space services from the country.
“Earlier, when IITs produced aero-space engineers, there was not a strong domestic industrial ecosystem to employ them. Today, with our historic reforms in the space sector, the last frontier before humanity has opened up to Indian talent,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi told a Pan IIT conference on Friday.
India has nearly 50 space startups in the sector and over 1,000 companies — both small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large enterprises such as Larsen & Toubro, Godrej Aerospace, Tata Advanced Systems and Hindustan Aeronautics, which have been vendors to Isro, building systems and subsystems for the space programme.
After opening the space sector to private firms in August, the department of space formed Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), a new body that will act as a regulator whose rulings would apply to the space agency as well as private firms in the country.
Sivan said an independent board is being set up and an approval is expected from the government by the end of December.