Pradeep's Space Newsletter #20

Indian Space Policy special

Department related Parliamentary Standing Committee report tabled in Rajya Sabha

There is a Science and Technology Parliamentary Standing Committee. This Committee provides oversight on activities which are funded by the Union Government. Among other things, this Standing Committee also looks into the matters relating to the Department of Space.

This Committee tabled it’s report on the Demand for Grants (2021-22) in the Rajya Sabha (PDF), India’s upper house in Parliament. Besides the financial matters that one expects from the title of the report, the report also asks many important policy questions. Hence, I prioritized this over the Annual Report 2021-22 that ISRO published.

First, the report acknowledges that COVID-19 impacted the activities of the Department of Space (DoS).

Second, the report tells the DoS that budgetary restriction should not stop the achievement of the launch of Chandrayaan-III and progress in Gaganyaan. ISRO had not allocated any GSLV Mk-III launch in it’s outcome-output matrix that would be needed to launch Chandrayaan-III.

Third, the report suggests that DoS should be able to device early warning mechanisms for rockslides and landslides or events such as the Uttarakhand Floods in 2021. This recommendation got some press coverage.

Fourth, the report asks DoS to launch more remote sensing satellites for commercial and defense applications. For some context, India has about 100 satellites in orbit as against China’s 400. To boot, India’s constellation is an aging one. Replacement satellites are not being launched fast enough. I had written an article on this issue in The Wire Science in November 2019.

Fifth, the report points to poor utilization of allocated funds in space science missions such as Aditya L1 and Chandrayaan 3. The report says the utilization of funds has been only 50%.

Sixth, the report asks DoS to launch more communication satellites. There is a backlog of satellites to be launched. GSLV Mk-III has come into service, but India seems to be dependent on Ariane V for launching satellites weighing more than 4 tonnes. Communication satellites for the Armed Forces and for redundancy are needed for functions like telecommunication, telemedicene, teleeducation, etc.

INSPACe and the Space Ecosystem

The sections 8 and 9 of the document suggest important policy questions. Section 8 covers the space ecosystem in general and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe).

Data shared by the DoS to the Committee in the report talks of 500 medium and small enterprises (MSMEs), public sector undertakings (PSUs) and large private industries supporting India’s space activities. These have generated employment for 45,000 people in these industries.

The Committee said that it felt IN-SPACe could use policy interventions to further tap the potential of the MSMEs and private sector. The Committee suggests that these interventions could double India’s share in the global space sector.

The Committee then asks DoS to table the Space Activities Bill, a draft version of which is available from 2017. ISRO’s Annual Report 2020-21 suggests this could happen soon. The report suggests that tabling the bill would provide the framework necessary for IN-SPACe to promote and regulate the space sector.

The Committee asks the Department to show restraint from going into the opening up of the space sector without looking into the pros and cons of the move. It asks the Department to make sure that opening up of the space sector leads to ‘indigenisation’ of technology. The Committee says DoS imports 60-70% of electronic components. It hopes Indian MSMEs and private companies that benefit from opening up of the sector will be able to build these components in India. It also asks the Department to take into consideration security requirements when providing access to private entities for ISRO facilities for testing.

NewSpace India Ltd.

In June 2020, NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL) took over the mandate of many activities that were previously performed by Antrix Corporation. Antrix is now left with the lucrative transponder leasing business. The ISRO Annual Report 2020-21 suggests Antrix will also look for other lucrative businesses.

The Committee questioned DoS that if NSIL were to take over launches of the PSLV, what role would ISRO play? DoS said that ISRO’s role will be limited to Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan, national security and advanced technology development. The rest will be handled by NSIL.

This means that ISRO is going through a period of change as it commercializes parts of it’s operations (PSLV, GSLV, SSLV etc.) and focuses on research. This section thus marks a very important turning point in it’s journey. As shared in this PTI story, NSIL also has ambitions of building satellites and payloads. This would mean parts of works done in each center of ISRO will be commercialized and spun-off into NSIL.

The Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Jairam Ramesh had called for comments on the demand for grants.

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