The reliance on space assets of various industrial sectors has grown tremendously over the past few years. The Indian satellite market has been bolstered by demand generation of various satellites, along with efforts taken by the Indian economy to be self-sufficient, with a vision to cater to global market requirements. The proactive approach of Indian satellite manufacturers and government organizations toward the launch of various satellites and generating milestones has generated a global impact.
Over the years, the Indian satellite market has grown tremendously with the launch of several satellites. In February 2017, India set a record by launching 104 satellites in a single launch. This attracted a lot of global attention and enabled the India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to establish itself as a favored space agency, especially for commercial small satellite launch.
On November 7, 2020, ISRO launched EOS-01, an Earth Observation (EO) satellite for applications such as forestry, disaster management, and agriculture activities, from India’s polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV). Along with EOS-01, nine other customer satellites were also launched based on the commercial arrangement with NewSpace India Limited.
The Indian Department of Space (DOS) is inclined to push growth in the space economy. Therefore, ISRO has made several reforms and has opened the space industry for private players. ISRO has switched its approach from a supply-based model to a demand-based model to utilize the space assets fully and reap maximum benefit.
According to the analysts at BIS Research, this is the perfect time for startups in India in the space and satellite domain because of the increasing demand for small satellites and mega-constellations globally. Further, the initiatives taken by the government of India and the favorable policies that are being developed are enabling new players to enter the market.
Also, under the government’s “Make in India” manufacturing initiative, several of these space tech startups are receiving grants for manufacturing small satellites in-house. Some of the major start-ups in India that are already gaining traction in the market include Agnikul, Bellatrix Aerospace, Pixxel, and Vesta Space, among others. These startups are led by brilliant young founders who have been able to raise funds amid the pandemic situation. These startups have been able to identify some unique opportunities in space that can further solve problems across industries.
The Indian government launched its Make in India program in September 2014 to accelerate designing and manufacturing sectors and provide a global platform to existing and new industry players. Various initiatives are being taken within the space sector under this initiative. Within this ecosystem, ISRO launched 328 foreign satellites from 33 different countries and generated revenue of around $25 million up to February 2021.
Make in India’s primary objectives of infrastructure development, business transparency at the global level, and international collaborations have allowed the government to initiate 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) operations with technology transfer collaborations. In October 2020, an MoU was signed between the Department of Space (DOS) and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) that will enable the transfer of technologies to the industry.
The Make in India campaign also focuses on the collaboration of Indian organizations with global bodies within the space sector. It has allowed India to understand global market opportunities and build a global presence within the satellite segment. Currently, India, within the Make in India initiative, is associated with a range of international bodies like the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS), International Astronautical Federation (IAF), International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) and Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS), among others.
This initiative has also helped various organization and universities operating within India to gain access to global education and knowledge base as the country has collaborated with international research, development, and education bodies like the Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) and United Nations (UN) affiliated Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTE-AP). As of now, there are more than 1,100 beneficiaries across 52 countries affiliated with the initiative, providing a global knowledge database to Indian organizations.
For the past couple of decades, the Indian space program has been on a growth trajectory with several achievements under its belt. The development of cryogenic engine technology is going to boost the Indian space market, as it is expected to enable India to launch heavy communication satellites.
The Indian space agency is now taking on several new projects to further help the ISRO strengthen its foothold in the global satellite market. For instance, India’s mission to land on the Moon has been officially announced. In addition, the space agency must plan toward organizing planetary missions for minerals, along with human space programs. K. Sivan, chairman of the ISRO, has announced that planning for Indian’s human spaceflight program is already underway, and four astronauts have been selected for the first Gaganyaan flight to Earth orbit. However, the target launch date is expected to be revealed at a later date. VS
Nilopal Ojha is an analyst for BIS Research.