ISRO to mentor private sector, but focus now on science, exploration: Sivan

Sivan explained how the space sector reforms will be implemented

PTI1_1_2020_000048B ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan | PTI

India is assured of emerging as a major hub of global space technology, said K. Sivan, Secretary, Department of Space, and chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), on Thursday. In a virtual address on Thursday, Sivan spelled out the details of the reforms through which the private sector will become an important player in space sciences and technology in India.

The Union cabinet had on Wednesday approved the reforms in this strategic sector, which were announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier, as part of the various economic changes the government is bringing about to make India self-reliant or atmanirbhar.

Sivan said that there are very few countries that have an effective promotional and authorisation mechanism for private space activities and India is joining this select league, now. He said that the aim was to get the private sector (which he defined as all non-government enterprises, like start-ups, academia and industry) involved, not just as a supplier for ISRO, but as a provider of end-to-end space technology solutions—for instance, the designing, manufacturing and launch of satellites and even launch vehicles.

He also said that India wanted the private sector to participate in the science of interplanetary missions of ISRO. While the private sector has been actively involved in ISRO's big exploratory missions, its role has been that of a manufacturer of components required by ISRO. Sivan said that ISRO had already announced an “opportunity of interest'' for the private sector to participate in its human space flight programme.

The cabinet on Wednesday announced the formation of an autonomous Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which will be the nodal agency dealing with private sector development in this area. Sivan said that there was the need for a mechanism to allow private players to grow, given that there are issues of safety, security and quality aspects to consider, as well as the aspect of ease of doing business.

Since there was no existing mechanism in the Department of Space to undertake these activities, IN-SPACe has been created. It will function under the Department of Space with its own directorates of technology, legal issues, safety and security, so that it can take independent decisions.

IN-SPACe will have a board with representations from the private sector, academia and government, and its decisions will be binding on both ISRO and the private players. The formations of IN-SPACe is the first reform by the government in opening up the space sector. While it will take a few months for IN-SPACe to get operational, the Department of Space is open to receiving proposals from interested parties for the use of space facilities. These applications will be processed on a fast-track basis, Sivan promised.

While IN-SPACe will handhold the private sector and permit private sector companies to build facilities within the Department of Space premises, ISRO will share its technological knowledge with these companies.

Sivan said that the next step would be to have new policies and tweak existing ones to accommodate the new participants. He said that the country needed a new navigation policy. It also needed modifications in the existing satellite communication and remote sensing policies.

The next reform will be to recalibrate the role of the new commercial arm of ISRO, NewSpace, to change from a supplier-driven to demand-driven model. It will be empowered to take over operational launch vehicles, satellite and space application initiatives and will execute them through an industry consortium. It will also undertake technology transfer activities.

The chairman reassured everyone that the role of ISRO would not be diminished with these changes. ISRO will continue to carry out its research and development activities, plan interplanetary missions and develop the human space flight programme as well as focus on capacity development. In addition, it will support private participation. In fact, as the first step in this direction, ISRO is planning an industry promotion meet within a fortnight wherein they will share more details of the mechanisms and applications required.

Sivan said ISRO was very excited with the prospects of these reforms, which will allow the industry to play a significant role in the new era of space technology in the country. “India is assured of emerging as a major hub of global space technology,'' he said. He also noted that there would be creation of large-scale employment in the country in the technology sector, thanks to these reforms.