India’s space sector startups are looking forward to the new space policy for easier access to finance and clarity on issues related to liability in case of untoward incidents. At least 100 startups are active in the country’s space sector building satellites, launch vehicles and even designing in-orbit refuellers for satellites that would otherwise have to be abandoned for want of fuel.
“A new space policy addressing various domains of space activities is being worked out,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh told Parliament on Wednesday.
In June, privatisation initiatives in the space sector witnessed landmark events such as the launch of the first demand driven satellite ordered by Tata Play and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrying payloads of two Indian space sector startups.
“Today, the market is very fragmented. We, at Dhruva Space, have three offerings in the space segment – manufacturing satellites for customers, interface with the launch vehicle and products that can be deployed at customer locations for operation of satellites,” Sanjay Nekkanti, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dhruva Space told PTI.
Dhruva Space tested its satellite orbital deployer onboard PSLV on June 30 and is gearing up to launch satellites Thybolt-1 and Thybolt-2 later this year to validate all systems before it offers satellites for its customers, he said. A study by the Centre for Development Studies and Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology had pegged India’s space economy at five billion dollars for the 2020-21 fiscal.
“We have good investments by venture capitalists and seed investors. But the next phase of financing will have to come from the government or big players in the private sector,” Lt Gen A K Bhatt (retd), Director General of Indian Space Association (ISpA) said.
“Incentives such as soft loans, tax holiday, production-linked incentives will have to be offered for this nascent industry to grow,” Bhatt said.
“We expect a true level playing field with government space entities when policies are executed as policies generally tend to be more stringent for private players,” said Pawan Kumar Chandana, CEO of Skyroot Aerospace, which is building its own ‘Vikram’ series rockets to make satellite launches affordable.
Manastu Space, which is building satellite propulsion systems, wants clarity in the space policy on ownership of assets in space and their utilisation.
“What are the liabilities and penalties in case a mishap happens,” Tushar Jadhav, CEO of Manastu Space, sought to know. His firm aims at building a fuel station for satellites in orbit.
He also sought clarity on foreign direct investments in the space sector, using ISRO facilities for space activities and an effective regulatory framework on lines of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for the sector.
“The processes of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (INSPACe) processes should be transparent, trackable and time-bound,” he said, referring to the nodal agency of the Department of Space for allowing space activities and use of its facilities by the non-government private enterprises.
Jadhav also pitched for a level playing field for Indian companies in domestic as well as foreign markets.
“Otherwise, if doing business is easier in the US than in India, why will anyone set up business here,” he asked. Skyroot’s Chandana also sought help from the government on insurance policies for space activities. “To give more thrust to our space programme, we need to target much more lenient insurance policies where the government can come forward and help out in a bigger way than what is done in other countries,” he said.
Jadhav pointed out that the European Space Agency has incubation programmes for startups and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has small business innovation research grants. “If ISRO can come up with something on these lines, it would be helpful,” Jadhav said