Featured image: K Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation. Photo: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters.
As a part of reforms of various sectors, the Government of India has announced the creation of a new ‘Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre’ (IN-SPACe), an “autonomous nodal agency under the Department of Space” that will provide the necessary support for the private space industry to conduct its activities.
In a short announcement on June 25, K Sivan, the secretary of the Department of Space and chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said IN-SPACe will have its own independent directorates for technical, legal, safety and security, and monitoring activities, as well as an activities promotion unit to assessing private players’ requirements and coordinate activities.
IN-SPACe’s outlook for now appears to be that of a ‘regulator’ functioning as an independent body under the Department of Space. So as such, there are some important steps that the Government of India needs consider to ensure IN-SPACe stays relevant and efficient.
Upstream space activities involve the use of communication frequencies, selling potentially dual-use products (both locally and internationally), and setting up devices to link space and ground assets. Further downstream, important activities include distributing images and other imagery-based services and communication-based services. Both sets of activities require consultations with, inspections from and approvals by several government departments and ministries. So IN-SPACe will solve an important problem if it includes members representing all the relevant departments and ministries that may wish to participate in regulating space activities.
Clear timelines and processes
The requirements of companies involved in upstream activities are often different from those involved in downstream activities. So IN-SPACe, and the government more broadly, needs to steer clear of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to dealing with them. It will go a long way by providing a clear charter on the timelines, processes and procedures involved for each activity. Such an exercise could benefit by an open dialog process with the local industry and reviewing global best practices.
Importantly, IN-SPACe should go beyond simply overseeing a new set of bureaucratic procedures. It should strongly consider additional roles to fill gaps in India’s space activities ecosystem to benefit Indian space products’ and services’ competitiveness. The body could do this with directorates that monitor the competitiveness of the local industry and find ways to improve it.
Incentives for local industry
Apart from IN-SPACe’s regulatory role, it should review the current demand and supply mechanisms to streamline procurement-, taxation- and investment-related matters. For example, it could review space products and services that foreign vendors are currently procuring and list them, together with local companies in the process of creating capacity to match the offering. Such initiatives can help catalyse the growth as well as competitiveness of India’s local industry. The body can then install a mechanism to systematically support local development as well, to further localise these capabilities within India.
It would be good if IN-SPACe could also review, and resolve, other important bottlenecks. For example, local companies that wish to have a payload launched onboard ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket need to pay 18% GST but foreign companies don’t. That is, IN-SPACe’s offerings for India’s private space sector should include incentives as well as a level playing field.
Help space activities contribute to the economy
It is currently not clear what the contributions of India’s space efforts are to India’s economy. So IN-SPACe could consider formally instituting a division within itself involving social scientists, economists and space technologists to create a framework to map and monitor space activities’ contribution to the economy, through investments by the government as well as the private sector.
This will bear fruits in the long run if only because policymakers will then be able to make data-driven decisions. A rolling framework will also allow a yearly public review of activities, which will encourage transparent assessments and accountability. The framework could also determine the number of jobs supported by space activities, keep track of competitiveness at the global stage and set goals.
* * *
In the final analysis, if IN-SPACEe does a good job, the government may not need to go through the long process of legislating a Space Bill, as it has been doing for at least three years now. On the other hand, Sivan said on June 25 that IN-SPACe is expected to take shape in the next six months. So by the end of 2020, India will have an opportunity to leapfrog over other spacefaring nations by providing a foundation for the private sector to become globally competitive in the coming years.
Narayan Prasad is the chief operations officer of satsearch.co, a global marketplace for space supported by the European Space Agency, and the host of the NewSpace India podcast.