On May 30, history was created by SpaceX when NASA astronauts were launched into orbit by the first-ever commercially-built rocket and spacecraft.
- “NewSpace” is a rapidly growing market that will be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade.
- Many doors of opportunity are opening in this sector. Reportedly, more than 17,000 small satellites will be launched in Low Earth Orbit by 2030.
The global space business is now estimated to be around $ 400 billion and is expected easily rise to at least trillion dollars by 2040.
Space Tech over recent years
Through the second half of the 20th century, outer space was the sole preserve of national space programmes driven by government-funding, direction and management.
- The last decades of the 20th century saw significant expansion of satellite-based telecommunication, navigation, broadcasting and mapping, and lent a significant commercial dimension to the space sector.
- As the digital revolution in the 21st century transformed the world economy, the commercial space sector has begun to grow in leaps and bounds.
- The entry of private sector has begun to drive down the cost-per-launch through innovations such as reusable rockets.
- As launch costs came down, the private sector has become more ambitious.
- SpaceX plans to launch hundreds of satellites into the low-earth orbit to provide internet services.
- Amazon has plans to build a network of more than 3,000 satellites in the low-earth orbit.
- Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos have plans to develop space tourism and build human settlements on the Moon and on Mars.
Indian Startups in Space Arena
While ISRO has been collaborating more and more with private industry, the capability to independently carry out even routine space missions, like the ones that SpaceX or Boeing or Virgin Galactic, have been undertaking frequently now, has been missing.
Recently new reforms were announced by the FM regarding private players in Indian Space tech industry which include
- Opening up space and atomic energy to private players, referring to them as “fellow travellers”
- Levelling of the playing field for private companies in satellites, launches and space-based services by introducing a predictable policy and regulatory environment to private players and
- Providing access to geospatial data and facilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
Exciting Indian space-tech startups are emerging
- For instance, Prixxels, founded by two BITS Pilani graduates, is building a constellation of nano-satellites to provide global, real-time and affordable satellite imagery services.
- Bengaluru-based startup, Bellatrix Aerospace offers novel “electric propulsion” systems, which have applications in the field of nano and micro-satellite propulsion.
- And Mumbai-based startup Manastu Space has developed a “green propulsion” system using hydrogen peroxide as fuel.
- Funding: The crucial issue of funding. We must trust and support early-stage innovations through “adventure” capital, not just risk-averse venture capital. We also need “patient” capital, as the lead times are long in this sector.
- Second, startups need a head start in the market and the current public procurement system is heavily loaded against them. The lowest-cost-selection approach must change to lower total cost of ownership.
- Innovation Ecosystem: We need to create a robust space tech-startup national innovation ecosystem comprising incubators, accelerators, scalerators and mentors. ISRO has a pivotal role in anchoring this initiative. Just as important will be the synergy with the government’s flagship programmes such as Digital India, Startup India, Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, etc.
- New legal structure: We urgently need a law that allows private players to participate across the space value chain, not just bits of it, as is the case today. The draft Space Activities Bill, introduced in 2017, has lapsed. This is an opportunity to rewrite it with a bold perspective.
- Fifth, the nation needs a new mantra. We must move our aspirations from leapfrogging to pole vaulting with an ambitious target to pole vault to a 10 per cent share of the global space economy within a decade
Public-private partnership should be in financing too, not just in development. India needs a regulatory environment that encourages a more dynamic role for the private sector and promotes innovation.