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Day 13 – Q 3. Indian space start ups have got huge potential. However, there are many challenges that need to be overcome to get into the league of global space giants like the SpaceX. Comment. 

  • IASbaba
  • June 24, 2020
  • 0
GS 3, Sci & Technology, TLP-UPSC Mains Answer Writing
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3. Indian space start ups have got huge potential. However, there are many challenges that need to be overcome to get into the league of global space giants like the SpaceX. Comment. 

भारतीय अंतरिक्ष स्टार्टअप में बड़ी संभावनाएं हैं। हालाँकि, ऐसी कई चुनौतियाँ हैं, जिन्हें SpaceX जैसी वैश्विक अंतरिक्ष दिग्गजों की लीग में लाने के लिए दूर करने की आवश्यकता है। टिप्पणी करें।

Demand of the question:

It expects students to write about the potential of Indian space start ups along with the challenges being faced by space start ups in reaching global league of giants like SpaceX.  

Introduction:

The recent announcement by Finance Minister in the fourth tranche of the 20 Lakh crore ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat Special Economic Stimulus Package’ (ANBSESP) for greater participation of the private enterprise in the space sector is very promising. It will help to realise potential of space start ups in India. 

Body:

Promises of Government include: 

  • Govt will provide predictable policy and regulatory environment, and allow private sector to use ISRO facilities.
  • Future projects for travel in outer space or exploration of new planets will be open to the private sector.
  • Govt will ease geo-spatial data policy to make such remote-sensing data more widely available to tech entrepreneurs, with safeguards put in place.

Potential of Indian space start ups:

  • India makes a great place for building a space business as a start-up. It has experienced space professionals who have been nurtured in an ecosystem that has 60 years of space mission experiences. 
  • Bengaluru-based Pixxel is gearing up to launch its first satellite by the end of the year. The small satellite will go in a Russian launch vehicle and will focus on high clarity satellite imagery. It would be helpful for governments and private organisations in collecting AI-powered analytical data related to agriculture, climate, spread of crop pests and diseases, defence monitoring, and mining in order to find illegal operations, monitor oil and gas pipelines, natural disasters, forest fire etc.
  • Astrome, another Bangalore based space-tech start up which has plans to launch a constellation of 198 Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites and Mumbai-based space-tech start-up Kawa Space are among the few Indian companies in this space.
  • India has the entrepreneurial spirit, with perhaps one of the youngest sets of founders among space start-up hubs around the world. It has established a small and medium enterprises landscape that can cater to the manufacturing and testing of satellites and rockets. It has academic institutions that produce globally-matched human resources, which can be employed by the emerging start-ups in the space industry.
  • The growth of Indian space start-ups in the last few years has fuelled entrepreneurial activity and innovation in satellites and Space Launch Vehicles (SLVs). 
  • Technology transfer by ISRO: In one of its latest transfers, the space agency has transferred Lithium ion-cells to a handful of state and private enterprises. Although start-ups do not figure in the list of beneficiaries, but private players have been integral to the supply chain and sub-contractual work for the Indian space programme.
  • Space start-ups are already in the process of contributing to India’s first human spaceflight mission – the Gaganyaan -1. Space start-ups have more drive and ambition than the bigger enterprises that tend to do overwhelmingly sub-contractual work on behalf of ISRO. Endowed with young technically qualified personnel and possessing initiatives of their own which are distinct, niche and disruptive, the start-up segment in the space sector can be at the cutting edge. Several start-ups have some working capital. 
  • Latest data available between 2016 and 2019 does indicate indicates that venture capital has enabled space unicorns which are involved in developing palm-sized satellites to Small Satellite Launch Vehicles (SSLVs) are gaining a toehold. 

Challenges to reach global league:

  • Government was pursuing extensive consultations on the passage of the Space Activities Bill since at least 2017, but the Bill is yet to become law. This is largely due to the complexities involving space science and technology, which is a strategic sector, any ensuing legislation will need to be clear and enforceable in a manner that encourages private initiative, investment, management and technological input.
  • It is still not clear how start-ups/private companies in India can get access to space frequencies to conduct routine telemetry, telecommand and payload data operations. 
  • India does have a satellite communication policy, but it was instituted with a Direct-To-Home (DTH) service provider in mind, rather than companies that would want other services (e.g. remote sensing). 
  • This creates uncertainty for the start-ups that plan to operate their own satellites. Friendly geographies outside India allows them to operate and collect their data over India or other areas of interest without having to go through the hassle of dealing with uncertainty in bureaucratic processes. 
  • A foreign company that wants to launch onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which is often touted as one of the most cost-effective and reliable launch vehicles in the world, pay 0% Goods and Services Tax (GST).  In contrast, an Indian space start-up has to cough up 18 per cent GST to launch from India.

To reach league of giants like SpaceX:

  • There is need to bring clarity on the basis of US  Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which provides the guidelines for private companies that either want to set up ground station facilities or access frequencies to operate their space assets.
  • To incentivise product/service development, several space faring nations provide support programmes to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas. For example, the European Space Agency (ESA) has several programmes such as the Business Incubation Centres (BICs), which incubate over 100 space start-ups every year. 
  • In US, there are also several funding instruments for start-ups and small/medium-scale enterprises that allow competent companies to develop state of the art intellectual property that forms the basis of novel products/services.
  • In contrast, there are no programmes or instruments that provide such support to entrepreneurs who want to create new space products/services in India. With the US still imposing some rules that restrict several grants/programmes to citizens, several Indian founders have now started leveraging the ESA start-up programmes to realise their ideas.

Business incubation centre for new space start-ups in India on the lines of European space Agency will help to realise of potential to reach big club of private players in space field. 

Conclusion:

Although, recent steps liberating the space sector from over-regulation or governmental control is a positive step bringing gains to the space start-up segment, more clarity will be necessary particularly in the form of a comprehensive Space Activities Law spelling out the provisions ranging from licensing and Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) covering start-ups and customers such as the Indian armed forces.

 

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