Mixed reactions on space sector reforms, preserve soul of ISRO

Mixed reactions on space sector reforms, preserve soul of ISRO

CHENNAI: Mixed reactions were voiced by the space industry officials on the Union Cabinet’s decision to set up Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), making Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to focus on research and development (R&D) of new technologies, exploration missions and human spaceflight programme.

Announcing the cabinet decision relating to Indian space sector Minister of State for Atomic Energy & Space, Jitendra Singh said one complaint against the existing set up was that it was not allowing level playing field for the private sector even though the capability was present.

Singh said the cabinet under the Chairmanship of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday decided to set up Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) to provide a level playing field for private companies to use Indian space infrastructure.

While the government has not selected the members for the new body, Singh also said there will be augmentation of members in Space Commission and new posts in the Department of Space (DOS) will be created.

He also said the New Space India Limited (NSIL) will endeavour to re-orient space activities from a ‘supply driven’ model to ‘demand driven’ model, thereby ensuring optimum utilisation of the country’s space assets.

“Excellent move which will unlock the full potential of Indian space sector. This will give a fillip to the growth of commercial-space in India, create jobs and contribute to economic growth,” S. Rakesh, Chairman-cum-Managing Director, Antrix Corporation Ltd, told IANS.

“This decision may have effects comparable to the growth in Telecom sector experienced after the formation of National Telecom Policy in 1994,” he added.

Pointing out India’s market share in the global space market is less than three per cent mainly due to ISRO’s capacity constraints, Rakesh added that enabling private sector and hand holding them is the best way to tackle this so as to improve exports in the future.

On Singh’s comment that NSIL will re-orient space activity from a ‘supply driven’ model to a ‘demand driven’ model, Rakesh said: “Until now ISRO used to get budget from the government to build commercial satellites and supply capacity to users. Now on NSIL will get orders from the needy and build satellites based on demand.

Giving thumbs up to the government’s decision, Tapan Misra, Senior Advisor, ISRO and former Director, Space Applications Centre, ISRO, told IANS: “This will enable private players to participate in the space programme independently or in collaboration with ISRO and also enable them to access ISRO’s facilities.”

According to him, private sector space co-travellers need ISRO’s handholding in the initial period till they establish their own costly test and fabrication facilities. “The IN-SPACe will also formulate policies and guidelines such that the interaction with ISRO and co-travelling along with ISRO will become smooth and discretionless,” Misra added.

According to him, IN-SPACe will enable India to attain the heights in space adventure and business by synergy with ISRO and also enable the latter to concentrate on R&D which is their forte.

With the government deciding that ISRO would focus on R&D, the new body IN-SPACe to focus on private sector participation and new posts to be created in DOS, the question that pops up is — is it an end for a senior ISRO official to be appointed as Secretary DOS and also ISRO Chairman?

All these years, a senior ISRO official has been appointed as Secretary DOS and ISRO Chairman.

“Not sure. Nothing of that sort has been announced,” an industry official preferring anonymity told IANS.

Former ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan told IANS: “We should look forward to preserve the ‘Soul of ISRO’ and its exceptional traits, while implementing this historic and significant transition.”

Welcoming the structural intervention and reforms announced by the government, Radhakrishnan said there is need to step up national capability in space technology and build innovative space systems to stay contemporary in the emerging ‘New Space Age’.

Pointing that the country operates a fleet of 50 Indian satellites for strategic, commercial and societal applications, Radhakrishnan said the unfulfilled national demand is piling up on one side while user-readiness to adopt new space systems has been a challenge.

“Beside, we see exponential advances in technology that supplement, complement and even compete with space systems. National capacity should be scaled up to build, operate and utilise space assets besides nurturing interface with the user segment,” he remarked.

On India’s low market share in the global space market, Radhakrishan is of the view that international marketing of strategic high technology products and services is ridden with several challenges to be handled with focus.

“Elsewhere in the world, the private industry and space-start-ups are becoming the drivers of the new space age. There is an imminent need to put in place mechanisms for promotion, capacity building and necessary regulations to rope in these talents and capacity in a major way to work in consonance with ISRO,” he said.

Sounding caution, a retired ISRO official not wanting to be quoted told IANS: “It is going to take quite some time for IN-SPACe/ISRO to clearly identify responsibilities, resources, manpower and other things. Perhaps there will be some confusion for some time in ISRO.”

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