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India: Up for a Spaceful of Dollars

With New Delhi eyeing a $44 billion space market including $11 billion in exports, the new class of rocket is likely to give it an edge in the commercial space business, hitherto dominated by the United States, the European Union, and China.
Last Updated 02 March 2024, 00:52 IST

A few months before Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone of India’s second spaceport in Tamil Nadu, ISRO chairman S Somanath was asked if the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle – slated to be the workhorse for the private sector – was ready for transfer to the industry as it had only a single successful developmental flight. He, however, exuded confidence in the potential of the private sector to tailor the rocket to suit user requirements, The private space industry was ready to take up big challenges, he said, adding: “We have built our own SSLV which will be transferred to the industry and produced in large numbers to meet the growing demand.”

With New Delhi eyeing a $44 billion space market including $11 billion in exports, the new class of rocket is likely to give it an edge in the commercial space business, hitherto dominated by the United States, the European Union, and China. Among the two Asian neighbours, China has a head start as it alone has completed 200 space missions since 2020 as compared to India's less than 20.

The second spaceport, the SSLV, and growing private participation facilitated by a liberal FDI regime can significantly alter the scenario.

The SSLV will be able to ferry nano, micro, and mini satellites weighing up to 300 kg to sun-synchronous orbits or 500 kg to low earth orbits besides offering on-demand launch services, without requiring clients to wait for larger rockets to carry them as co-passengers. The new spaceport at Kulasekarapattinam in Thoothukudi district in Tamil Nadu will be dedicated to SSLV and other such launch vehicles.

The satellites launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre – the country’s first spaceport established at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in 1971 - fly in the southeast direction to avoid the Sri Lankan airspace and take a sharp turn towards the South Pole. The second spaceport coming up over an area of 2,233 acres in Tamil Nadu will allow satellites to fly south directly, cutting down significantly on fuel consumption. Its proximity to the ISRO Propulsion Research Complex at Mahendragiri in the neighbouring Tirunelveli district of the state will also ensure quicker and cheaper transport of rocket components.

The ISRO has planned up to 24 launches of small satellites in a year.

from the second spaceport, which will offer higher payload capability and lower turnaround time for commercial launches.

“The new facility will play an instrumental role in accommodating the increasing launch frequency of both ISRO and the growing private space industry in the coming years,” said Lt Gen AK Bhatt (retd), director general of the Indian Space Association. The region is likely to turn into a space hub. With the global small satellite market projected to grow rapidly, the Tamil Nadu government wants to set up a Space Industrial and Propellants Park in the district to draw investment from private manufacturing and R&D firms.

“There is no sign of a funding winter in the space sector,” said Pawan K Goenka, chairman of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which estimated that the space sector could attract an investment of $22 billion in the next 10 years if appropriate policies were in place. There are seven specific segments but the most businesses are likely in earth observation, satellite communication and navigation.

A start has been made with the Union Cabinet approving a liberalised FDI policy. The government has allowed 100% FDI for making of components and systems/ sub-systems for satellites, ground segment and user segment, 74% FDI for satellites-manufacturing and operation, satellite data products and ground segment and user segment, and 49% FDI for the development of launch vehicles and associated systems / subsystems, and creation of spaceports. The government is also in the process of streamlining the regulatory procedures.

“Space start-ups attracted over Rs 1,000 crore in private investment this fiscal. Space is becoming a key component of India's economy”, said Union Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh.

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(Published 02 March 2024, 00:52 IST)

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