Need to bring space, aeronautical sectors closer, have long-term vision: Veteran scientist

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December 20, 2020 4:28 PM

Nair expressed the view that India's new policy, as envisaged in the reforms push announced in June, virtually takes away that "single point authority and control (from ISRO)" and shakes up its managerial set-up.

ISRO, Indian space programmeNair served as Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Space Commission and DOS Secretary from 2003 to 2009. (Image: Reuters)

ISRO needs to draw up a ten-year vision plan, veteran space scientist G Madhavan Nair said on Sunday and batted for bringing space and aeronautical sectors closer like in China for greater success.

He said the Bengaluru-headquartered space agency under the Department of Space (DOS) used to have such a document earlier but he hasn’t seen one extending up to the year 2030.

“Unless we have a long-term vision, we will be doing piece-meal”, Nair, who served as Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Space Commission and DOS Secretary from 2003 to 2009, told PTI.

“Of course there are ideas. But somebody has to consolidate and come out with a concrete plan of action for the next ten years”, he said.

Nair said India’s private sector players in the field of space would have to go global as catering to the domestic market alone would not sustain their business. ISRO has good space-based earth observation, communication and satellite technologies which private sector players would have to access but just meeting the national requirement alone would not sustain them.

“They have to capture the international market. Then only there is a meaning. USD 300 billion (addressable global market) is distributed all over the world”, he said. “So, when a private venture comes in, its job should be to absorb these technologies, mass produce and sell it economically all over the world”, Nair said.

In June this year, the government decided to open up the space sector and enable the participation of Indian private sector as a “co-traveller”.

As per the Cabinet approval, the approach towards space activities in the country will shift from a supply-based model to a demand-based model, according to ISRO. With the creation of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the reforms would provide level playing field for private companies and start-ups, the space agency had said.

IN-SPACe is the authorisation and regulatory body under DOS for enabling private players to undertake space activities in the country. To enable enhanced participation of Indian industries in taking up high-tech space related activities, the union government has incorporated NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a wholly owned Central Public Sector Enterprise (CPSE), under the administrative control of DOS.

Nair expressed the view that India’s new policy, as envisaged in the reforms push announced in June, virtually takes away that “single point authority and control (from ISRO)” and shakes up its managerial set-up.

Citing the example of China and SpaceX’s Elon Musk, Nair stressed the need in India for bringing the space and aeronautical sectors together for greater success of the programmes.

“China continues to work under single leadership not only for space (sector) but also for aeronautics. So that’s something that helps them to consolidate their technology and progress much faster”, he said.

Similarly, Musk “has everything under one roof. This is what has helped him to progress much faster than any other venture in the world”, Nair said.

US space agency NASA also had a similar unified structure till the year 2000 or so but thereafter it “got into this kind of policy confusion and managerial confusion (like India with new space policy) and they turned out to be more of a contract manager”, according to him.

“So, Elon Musk filled in that gap (vacated by NASA), he saw the opportunity and created an institution which was equivalent to the earlier NASA and succeeded”, Nair said.

Asked if he feared ISRO going the NASA way, he said: “I don’t want to disappoint any of my (ISRO) colleagues. But with the present type of splintered type of management, we (ISRO) will end up like NASA only.

“Even now… there are three-four entities created (like IN-SPACe and NSIL)… there has to be a single command over these entities. You cannot allow them to function independently. They have to have freedom to work independently but convergence of all these things has to be with single agency”, he underlined.

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