To enable India to expand its footprint in the $360 billion space market, the government last week said a regulatory body called the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) will be established. It’s expected to encourage private participation. Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairman K Sivan, who’s also the secretary of the department of space, explains the underlying idea to TOI’s Surendra Singh in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
Will IN-SPACe affect the functioning of Isro?
No, the setting up of nodal agency IN-SPACe won’t affect Isro’s functioning as the proposed nodal agency will be a fourth vertical under the department of space. Currently, Isro is one vertical under which there are so many centres, then the second vertical is of autonomous bodies and the third one is the public sector entity New Space India Ltd (NSIL). IN-SPACe will be a totally autonomous body, which won’t be influenced by Isro and it won’t influence Isro’s work. It will have its chairman, directorate and cadre.
Will IN-SPACe’s decisions be binding on Isro?
When a private company makes a demand before IN-SPACe for either using testing facilities or systems of Isro, the nodal agency will talk to the respective Isro centres for providing the facility to the company. Once IN-SPACe has made a decision on an application in consultation with Isro, then that decision will be binding on Isro and other stakeholders. So, only the mission-specific IN-SPACe’s decision will be binding.
As per space reforms, private sector will now play a big role in the space sector. How?
Till now, private players or a consortium of companies had been making and supplying components of
and satellites to Isro. Now, private companies can produce their own satellites and rockets and use Isro’s launch facility to launch them for a fee. So, the private players will be involved in a project from start to finish. This will spur commercialisation of satellite and rocket manufacturing and revolutionise the entire process, which till now was confined to Isro. Students can make mini-satellites and can launch them from Isro facilities and we can give them a concession. We may also allow a free launch on a case-to-case basis.
What’s your overview of new space reforms?
It’s an excellent initiative and has come at the right time. Right now, India’s contribution in the $360 billion space economy is just 3%. The reforms will bring drastic changes in the space sector. Second, the requirement for space-based applications has increased manifold. With the implementation of the government’s digital programme, the demand for such applications will explode in the near future, which Isro won’t be able to fulfil alone. Therefore, PM Modi’s initiative to allow bigger participation of private players will help meet the country’s requirement for such space-based applications effectively and efficiently.
Why can’t we have a common policy in the space sector?
Each application has a different characteristic. Like when we are talking about satcom [satellite communication], we are talking about commercial applications.
Remote sensing application
, on the other hand, is not commercial but is meant for societal good. Navigation has both the things – commercial and strategic purposes. Satcom and remote sensing policies are already there but they will now be modified to include provisions for private players. Navigation policy doesn’t exist and we are trying to put one together.
Is any satellite launch possible this year?
We had lined up a lot of missions this year. But due to the pandemic, our industry (that supplies rocket and satellite components) is not able to work with full capacity and our officials are facing travel curbs. We’re targeting to launch 4-5 satellite missions, including remote sensing (surveillance) and communication satellites, this year.
Is it possible to meet the 2022 deadline of Gaganyaan manned mission after astronauts’ training has halted in Russia?
Though the pandemic had halted the training of four astronauts in Russia, it won’t affect the 2022 launch deadline of the Gaganyaan manned mission as we have kept a “cushion” both in the training programme and launch deadline. In the 15-month training period in Russia, we have kept four months of cushion. The training of astronauts has now resumed. We had earlier planned to launch the manned mission in December 2021 but we have time till August 2022 as our PM had said India would reach space before the 75th anniversary of Independence Day. With the present situation, we are facing a lot of operational difficulties and therefore the unmanned mission carrying a ‘humanoid’ won’t be possible this year. However, we are targeting to launch two unmanned missions before the final one by next year.
What is the mission status of Chandrayaan-3?
With the present situation, we are targeting launch of Chandrayaan-3 mission next year. However, this mission will involve only lander, rover and a propulsion system to carry the module to moon. It won’t have the orbiter as our previous orbiter is fully operational.