A giant leap | The Financial Express

A giant leap

Skyroot’s debut was spectacular; it’s time for the govt to attract the bigger companies to the space sector

A giant leap
Harnessing private sector resources for the space economy has long been imperative for countries eyeing dominance in this area of future growth. (Photo: Skyroot)

The launch of Vikram S, a small rocket, from Isro’s launch site in Sriharikota was a giant leap indeed for India in private sector participation in the space sector. Made by Hyderabad-based Skyroot Aerospace, it is the country’s first privately-developed rocket, and the company plans to launch a series of larger rockets over the next few years. Last week’s successful launch demonstrates Skyroot’s competence on technology, manufacturing, and process development. It also represents a breakout moment for India’s endeavours in space: while Isro will continue to remain a prime driver for the country’s space journey, the private sector will complement its efforts.

Harnessing private sector resources for the space economy has long been imperative for countries eyeing dominance in this area of future growth. Last year, the global space market was valued at $388.5 billion and could likely reach $540.8 billion in the next four years. The private sector players have been playing a critical role over the past few decades, with the sector growing by over 65% between 2010 and 2020. Morgan Stanley predicts the global space industry to touch $1 trillion by 2040. India’s 368 private firms participating in the space economy make it the fifth-largest in the world by the number of private space firms, but the fact is that the US—at the top of the list—alone has more such firms than the next fifteen countries. Consequently, despite India’s relative heft, its share in the global space economy stands at just 3%.

If the country is to achieve the government-set target of 10% by 2030, private participation, especially in research and development and all other aspects of space operation needs to grow by several times. A space-industry watcher predicts launch costs to fall by 95% by 2040, with the likes of SpaceX working on perfecting reusable launch vehicles etc. India’s USP in the space market so far has been its enviable cost-effectiveness. With this edge under threat once costs come down for all players, India needs to focus on developing a tech edge. With large American and European companies with deep pockets focussed on demand-areas such as space resource utilisation, in-space manufacturing, and even asteroid manufacturing, there are many untapped areas into which India needs to push its private sector. This is also important from a jobs point-of-view—the number of space-jobs today is estimated to be around 400,000, and could potentially reach 1.5 million by 2040, as per the US Chamber of Commerce. And this would not be just in the STEM function—professionals across specialisations will be needed.

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All this has meant growing private investment in the West in the space economy, with the US leading the race by miles. Indeed, space investment by private players in the US hit a record level last year. Against this backdrop, India’s decision to free up the space sector and the creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) as the regulator are steps towards realising its space ambitions. Isro, of course, would need to handhold private firms, especially on R&D and honing operational expertise. While start-ups need government help, there is also a need to get big players from conventional but related industries interested in partnering them for fast-tracking development. The US already has some of its biggest engineering firms locked in the space-sector business.

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First published on: 22-11-2022 at 04:00 IST