"We are unlocking India's space potential"


With India accounting for just 3 per cent of the $360 billion global space industry, IN-SPACe could be just what the country needs to galvanise its efforts moving forward. Dr K. Sivan, ISRO chairman and secretary, department of space, spoke at length to India Today Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa on the implications and prospects of this momentous development.



With the Union government announcing the setting up of IN-SPACe -- an autonomous agency under the Department of Space to promote cooperation with the private sector -- last week, India took a giant step towards opening its national space programme to private players. Until now, the Indian Space Research Organisaton (ISRO) has had a monopoly on all space-related activity, including building rockets and satellites and launching them into orbit.


Private firms were limited to making sub-systems and assembling spacecraft, but were never permitted to own them or manage their operations. The government has now levelled the field and is creating an ecosystem for private players to augment, in a big way, the job that ISRO is doing. In order to reduce the investment burden for private players, the government is also opening up facilities that ISRO has built at huge cost. Nonetheless, it will be at least a decade before India achieves something like the US model: today, the famed NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) only plans and executes space missions -- it commissions private players to build the spacecraft and launchers to do so.


Though India has over 500 firms, big and small, involved in space activities, it will be several years before they mature enough to allow ISRO to move away from repetitive and routine space-related tasks and to focus on overseeing the development of India's space programme. With India accounting for just 3 per cent of the $360 billion global space industry, IN-SPACe could be just what the country needs to galvanise its efforts moving forward. Dr K. Sivan, ISRO chairman and secretary, department of space, spoke at length to India Today Group Editorial Director Raj Chengappa on the implications and prospects of this momentous development. Excerpts:


Q. Why did the government permit the private sector to enter into space activity in such a big way through IN-SPACe -- almost at par with ISRO?


A. For two reasons. The demand for space-based applications is now increasing multifold, far more than originally envisaged, and this requirement is going to explode as we move toward the implementation of the digital India programme. The requirement will be so huge that if ISRO had to do the job alone, we would have to enhance its resources tenfold. If the private sector is ready to do the job, why not allow them to