The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) outsourcing the manufacture of two of its navigation satellites should provide India a generous leg-up in becoming a market leader in space technology.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) outsourcing the manufacture of two of its navigation satellites should provide India a generous leg-up in becoming a market leader in space technology. Isro’s successes—the more recent ones being the low-cost Mars Orbiter Mission, GPS Aided Geo-Augmented Navigation (Gagan), and the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS)—have positioned it as a repository of world-class intellectual property. In fact, the satellites that enable the indigenously developed IRNSS navigation system—this makes India one out of the five nations that have their own satellite-enabled navigation—make for compelling evidence of how far ahead of the curve Isro is, considering it launched its first navigation-communication (nav-com) satellite in 2011, and its first standalone navigation satellite, as recently as in 2013. But, given its primary role as a research agency, its capacity to use this intellectual property to reach even a reasonable scale of commercial production—which is a must if India is to flex its space-tech muscles—is quite limited; its commercial arm, Antrix, remains a relatively small player. Thus, the plan to outsource the production to a consortium of private players—each company will bring a different expertise to the table, as per a Business Standard report—and transfer the technology to it is a leap forward for both Isro and the nation.
Though it isn’t clear which companies will be part of the consortium, having the manufacturing giants that supplied components to Isro for its satellites would add meaningful value. While Isro aims to “facilitate greater participation” of Indian industries through its technology transfers—it has passed on 300 technologies to industries, in the fields of electronics, speciality polymer chemicals and materials, electro-optical instruments, etc, since the 1980s—the failure of the Anrtix-Devas deal had left a blot on its record. If the proposed outsourcing sails through, it could perhaps help relieve the private sector of any lingering anxiety about partnering with the public-sector research agency. That aside, the gains for Isro could spread far beyond. The agency has been investing in developing an IPR portfolio, and that now consists of some 270 patents, 45 copyrights and 10 trademarks. While all this safeguards its innovations, it also allows for profitable exploitation of its research through tech-transfers and licensing. The proposed outsourcing of satellite manufacture, thus, could prove to be a sampling of how it could benefit from the technology it has been developing over the years.