Race for Space: India set to shine

08 Dec 2020

The journey to space has traversed a long journey over the last seven decades. It began with the launch of the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) in 1957 and changed the course of human space exploration when the Apollo 11 crew reached the lunar surface. From the curiosity to understand space to explore the ecosystem of Mars, the space journey has evolved.

India joined the league of space player nations in 1962 with the formation of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR), which was later renamed as Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). India’s first satellite, Aryabhata, was launched by the Soviet Union in 1975. Since then, India’s space missions have seen massive achievements in terms of success rate and have proved to be extremely cost-efficient.

In September 2014, with the launch of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission, India became the first country to reach Mars orbit in the first attempt. ISRO has proven its mettle when it comes to satellite launches, and in 2017, it achieved another feat by launching 104 satellites in a single rocket.

ISRO has so far carried out 110 spacecraft missions, 78 launch missions, ten student satellites, and 328 foreign satellites from 33 countries. It currently has two operational launchers, viz. Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). ISRO is also working on Reusable Launch Vehicle – Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), a fully reusable launch vehicle and Scramjet Engine, which will use hydrogen as fuel and the oxygen from the atmospheric air as the oxidizer. A test flight of about 300 seconds, covering 320 kilometers, for Scramjet Engine, was carried out in August 2016.

Apart from providing pivotal infrastructure facilities like launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground segment facilities, and services in telecommunication, broadcasting, navigation, space science, space exploration, meteorology, and remote sensing, among others, the Indian space sector has been gearing up for a more active commercial approach. The government is opening the space sector for Non-Government Private Entities (NGPEs). The creation of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) will help increase the industry’s share in the Indian as well as the global space market.

IN-SPACe will allow space activities and usage of the Department of Space (DOS) owned facilities by private players and help in launch manifest. Many start-ups and companies have come forward to develop launch vehicles and satellites and are exploring possibilities to provide space-based services.

Space-based tourism, space-based energy, space manufacturing, asteroid mining, and deep space missions are also being promoted to bring the Indian space sector at the forefront of the Indian economy.

To facilitate and strengthen the space industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), in association with ISRO and the Antrix Corporation Limited (ANTRIX) and supported by NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), organised an International Space Conference and Exhibition.

Attended by over 8,075 delegates and students from Indian space institutes, the digital event showcased a wide range of innovations, solutions, and technologies by the Indian space industry along with those from overseas, facilitating a platform for discussing various ongoing and future projects and opportunities emerging from the announcement of new reforms.

The government is also planning to bring a space activities Bill in Parliament to promote and regulate space activities. The Bill proposes to implement a legal policy framework to encourage private sector participation.  Among other provisions, a non-transferable license shall also be provided for carrying out commercial space activities.

These space reforms will allow Indian players to contribute to the global space economy valued at USD 360 billion currently. It is set to grow to USD 1 trillion by 2040.

With international organizations like SpaceX that plans to send humans to Mars by 2024 and Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully returning post-flight after climbing to a height of approximately 106 kilometers, it is time for Indian organizations to join the space league.

In the years to come, it would be interesting to watch the new era of space exploration. Given the current trends and the growth trajectory, India is poised to emerge as a formidable force in the space sector.

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