Pvt sector, policy key to lead space quest

Pvt sector, policy key to lead space quest
Digital India aims to connect over 3,00,000 villa­ges in the country. Presently, only about 43,000 villages are connected, and the rural internet mission will add another 1,20,000 on a fibre-optic backbone. However, as experts argue, only space assets can ensure last-mile connectivity.

It was suggested to emulate the US model, in which household satellite dishes are used for accessing satellite-based internet services at higher speeds, thus bringing every square inch of the country under connectivity.

Similarly, India’s television industry airs about 800 TV channels and generates about $10 billion, a figure that is likely to grow to 1,200 channels and $16.3 billion by 2019. There are 168 million TV households and Direct-to-Home satellite-based television service is the fastest growing segment of the industry. However, lack of sufficient transponder capacity is forcing these businesses to rely on foreign commercial satellites.

These examples illustrate an increasing dependence on outer space. With the advancement of technology, utilisation of outer space has become an integral component in efforts for a better quality of life. For instance, accurate prediction of cyclones to minimise human life loss would not have been possible without inputs from space-based operations.

Dependence on space has different facets, such as better resource management at home, both for civil and military purposes, and enhancement of our understanding of the universe through various exp­-
loration missions, namely Chandrayaan, Mangalayaan etc.

The number of players (both state and non-state) is increasing every year and this race will certainly lead to a critical situation where issues such as congestion, conflicts and accidents may negatively impact the overall progress. Entry of private space companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic are redefining the nature of traditional space business.

Leading market research studies project that more than 1,800 satellites will be launched over the next decade, generating about $300 billion in trade, across the globe. For the US and Israel, current market leaders in the space industry, it was the successful implementation of national space policies supporting space start-ups which put them on top.

India, however, with several inherent advantages such as availability of skilled workforce, a stable and business-friendly government, positive investor climate and low cost of operations remains a small player in this big market. To envisage bigger share in this emerging third major innovative wave of Space Industry after IT and BT, India has to bring in several changes.

Need for fine-tuning

To begin with, India has adequate capabilities to train its manpower in ‘hardware aspects’ of the space industry. The IITs (Mumbai, Kanpur, Chennai etc), the IISc and a few other reputed universities are catering to this demand and justifying it. This has already been proven through successful completion of several space missions, be it launching of more than 100 satellites in a single mission or sending a spacecraft to Mars. We have around 35 satellites in earth’s orbit for communication, television broadcasting and remote sensing and have also launched our first military satellite to gather naval intelligence, last year.

However, the use of information generated through such missions needs further fine-tuning. Higher levels of refinement in the fields of weather forecasting, geographical information systems and navigation will certainly provide a boost to our economic growth and also development. India’s Mangalyaan space probe made history – twice, for being the only nation so far to reach Mars on its first attempt and spending the least amount of money to do so. The price tag was just about $74 million, a fraction of the $671 million cost of the NASA’s latest Mars programme.

But, this came out of sheer necessity. To reduce costs, we kept the size of the payload small, at 15 kg, used a small rocket to put the spacecraft into the earth’s orbit first to gain enough momentum to slingshot it towards Mars to save on fuel.

Promoting the participation of private sector in our space programme and its derivatives would not only ensure quick and higher penetration of space technological benefits into society, but even provide additional stimulus to this sector. For this, a suitable proactive policy environment has to be created by the government to facilitate this partnership.

Once an exclusive domain of two or three advanced countries, outer space has now become a challenging and promising sector, with immense possibilities thrown open to several countries. India should not let go of this opportunity.

(The writer is with the Department of Aerospace, School of Engineering and Technology, Jain University)

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