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Draft Spacecom Policy and India’s Space Sector – The Big Picture – RSTV IAS UPSC

  • IASbaba
  • December 22, 2020
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The Big Picture- RSTV, UPSC Articles
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Draft Spacecom Policy and India’s Space Sector

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TOPIC: General Studies 3

  • Awareness in the fields of Space
  • Science and Technology

In News: In line with its mandate to open up the space sector for private players, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has released the draft of a new Spacecom Policy 2020 to govern the commercial use of orbital slots, satellites, and ground stations for communication needs. 

  • This policy would serve as a successor to the Satcom Policy, 1997, put out 22 years ago. It also put out a draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of Spacecom Policy, 2020, which is part of the same consultation.
  • The policy details how private players can get authorisation for setting up new communication satellites and ground stations.
  • An Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) will be created to authorise satellite communications, according to a proposal by the Department of Space. Under the proposed rules, only Indian entities will be allowed to use satellite communications in India.

Goals of the Policy

  1. Take steps to authorise and monitor satellite communications from and to India.
  2. Protect “space assets” and “bring in more space assets under the administrative control” for “national needs”.
  3. Promote involvement of Indian industry.
  4. Harness satellite communication for requirements that commercial business models cannot support due to economic or national security concerns.
  5. Provide a “timely and responsive regulatory environment” for the satellite/space communications industry.

Space communications must be leveraged to fulfil national needs (such as internet in underserved areas), pioneer technological advancements, and involve industry players more significantly. 

The draft norms say –

  • Space a “common province of humanity”: Since space isn’t subject to boundaries and territorial spectrum rules, and is instead subject to regulations from the International Telecommunication Union, use of space-based communications must be permitted through a process of authorization. It is essential that Government of India has the knowledge and provisions of having control on the activities with respect to any communication involving space objects from its territory.
  • Securing space assets: To secure space assets, it is necessary to acquire orbital resources (like spectrum) in a time-bound manner, and replace satellites in a timely fashion. Since the 1980s, 32 indigenous operational communications satellites have been brought in from multiple orbital slots using various frequency bands. It is necessary to enhance orbital resources like spectrum and slots under Indian administration.
  • Re-assigning unused orbital resources: The policy puts pressure on authorised entities by saying that unused orbital resources may simply be given to someone who is better prepared to use them. DOS shall take appropriate action for protection of such resource including assigning the same to other potential Indian satellite operator(s) following stipulated procedures.
  • Involving Indian industry: The Department of Space and ISRO have nurtured Indian industry in space, and companies have matured to better capabilities. As such, their involvement to deal with demand for existing and emerging services should be encouraged, so that they can provide services both at home and abroad.
  • Govt. to take up security and connectivity projects: For communications for national security (like military satellites), the Department of Space will take full charge of such systems. The DoS will also take charge of connectivity projects in remote areas that a commercial service provider may not be inclined to pursue.
  • Autonomous body to clear spacecom projects: An autonomous body under Department of Space shall be created, the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Center (IN-SPACe). Guidelines and regulations, however, will be the DoS’s remit. The authorisation addresses the country’s liability for any potential damages caused by the space object or space activities of Indian entities as owner of the space asset.
  • Indian companies can buy PSU-controlled orbital resources: Indian companies can purchase spectrum and other orbital resources from designated PSU/CPSE under DOS on commercial basis subject to availability.
  • Only Indians can get authorisation for space-based communications: The norms say that only Indians may get authorisations from the DoS for running a satellite-based communications service. Additionally, Indian entities will have to get financial guarantees or insurance against damage that can happen in outer space due to their equipment. Any Indian service provider/user can avail the space based communications only on the authorized space based systems. This essentially translates to a continuation of the ban on satellite phones from abroad, which work in India but are outlawed. If there is a change in ownership of the Indian entity, fresh authorisations must be sought.

The draft norms further 

  • Lay out the application procedures, such as having different formats for setting up Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) stations, non-geostationary satellite systems for applications such as broadband via satellite (NGSO communications systems) and Satellite Control Centres (SCCs). 
  • Orbital resources administered by other countries can be used, if they are on track to be transferred to Indian administration. 
  • Different authorisations will be required for different aspects of running a satellite communications system, such as for setting it up, changing frequency bands, and other procedural requirements.

Impact

This policy, if enacted, would have a significant impact on the private satellite communications industry. It may also make it easier for private players like Airtel to introduce satellite broadband in under-served areas through satellite constellations like OneWeb.

The Way Forward

What we need is a comprehensive space policy that will map out how will the government’s announcement of opening up the space sector be actually executed, and the policy and regulatory framework that would be needed. Such a policy will also map out the scientific missions that will be undertaken by ISRO, while leaving the routine missions to the private sector. It should clearly detail the needs of India’s space sector and allow for a fair competition for the private space sector to deliver

Must Read: 

The uncharted territory of outer space

IN-SPACe: Growing private role

SpaceX Crew Dragon: A new era in space exploration

Connecting the Dots:

  1. India needs urgent and radical reforms in its space sector. Do you agree? Discuss.
  2. What are those current trends that indicate towards a highly sophisticated and advanced future of space technology? Explain.  

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