Indias space start-ups may get a boost with human spaceflight programme

India's space start-ups may get a boost with human spaceflight programme

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India’s private space-tech start-ups are all set to receive a boost when the Union government modifies the draft of its ‘Humans in Space Policy 2021’ document to rope in private space-tech start-ups into their ambitious human spaceflight programme.

Industry experts seem to be bullish that the Indian space policy in 2022 is likely to focus on private start-ups and their role in the human spaceflight programme, according to an report in a business daily.

India, which accounts for only 2 per cent of the $360 billion global space economy, has so far limited private players in its space industry to being vendors or suppliers to the government’s space programme. However, the draft already recognises the importance of bringing in the private players to participate in the space programme.

“Promoting the private sector will enable the Indian space programme to remain cost competitive within the global space market, and thus create several jobs in the space and other related sectors”, said the draft of the Human in Space Policy for India 2021.

The Indian government’s ‘Humans in Space Policy’ aims for a sustained human presence in space as an instrument for “development, innovation and foster collaborations” and to “unlock the potential of the space sector by facilitating the participation of non-traditional players in undertaking space activities through a handholding approach and a transparent regulatory framework.”

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The space policy, which is now expected to be released in 2022, will include space transportation, humans in space policy, remote sensing, satellite communications and much more. But importantly, the policy will involve the private players as well, and most of the regulations will be geared to bolster the private space sector’s ecosystem. The Indian spaceflight policy will now define the role of private entities in human missions to space and this is likely to coincide with the two uncrewed Gaganyaan test missions which are scheduled for 2022, said industry experts.

Recently, Jitendra Singh, union minister of state for the department of space and atomic energy, too mentioned in Parliament that Gaganyaan – India’s manned space mission – will launch in 2023. The first manned Gaganyaan mission will take place in the early second-half of 2022, while the second uncrewed mission at the end of 2022. It will include Vyommitra, a humanoid robot developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

Meanwhile, India is targeting to set up its own space station by the year 2030, Singh further told the Parliament.

Though Indian start-ups like Skyroot Aerospace and Agnikul Cosmos, are building their own rockets and will launch their first rockets into space in 2022, industry experts however also expressed the view that it will take time for the government to completely involve private Indian players. Private start-ups are still constrained for funds and the government also needs to gain a better understanding of the needs of these small-time private players.

It will not be before 2035 and onward for private Indian players to end up actively participating in the human spaceflight programmes, said industry observers in the news report.

Elaborate protocols and mechanisms have to be set in place to allow in private startups and industry players gradually. For example, the 2030 Indian space station plan will be an inter-ministerial mission and will require the different ministries working on these projects to create a system to bring in private start-ups.

Also, when Prime Minister Modi launched the Indian Space Association (ISpA), an industry body created to make India a global leader in commercial space-based excursions, the founding members of the organisation included government bodies such as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and big private telecom companies such as Bharti Airtel’s One Web, Tata Group’s Nelcom, L&T, MapMyIndia, and others.

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A lot of these companies are betting big on setting up space-based communications network, a segment that has taken off with several Indian and international companies viewing it as the next frontier to provide high-speed and affordable Internet connectivity to inaccessible areas in the country. The companies here include SpaceX’s StarLink, Sunil Bharti Mittal’s OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, US satellite maker Hughes Communications, etc. The small private space tech start-ups are not in the big picture as yet.

Digantara, Bellatrix Aerospace, Indigenously Developed Technologies, Agnikul and Tathya are some of the private entities in the space business recognised by the government of India.

The homegrown space-tech startups are intent on climbing onboard the business of human spaceflights. And are eyeing this very attractive long-term market of human transport, be it for tourism, exploration or other space-based services. But experts felt these start-ups should not depend on India’s human spaceflight programme and instead concentrate on manufacturing satellite constellations. Satellite constellations are currently being purchased or sourced from a foreign entity. Private players can also build up their revenue first by picking-up commercial contracts, and catering to the country’s own defence sector’s space-related needs.

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