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India’s Bid to be a Global Leader in the Spacetech

On Monday, 11th October, our honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted the major reforms in the Indian Space Sector and Space Technology.

The PM stated that there has never been such a strong and decisive government in the country as it is today.

“The major reforms that happened in India today in the space sector and space tech are also linked with it. I once again congratulate everyone for forming the Indian Space Association,” stated PM Modi at the launch of ISpA.

“Our approach to space reforms is built on four pillars: freedom to the private sector to innovate, the enabler role of the government, make our youth future-ready, and to see the space sector as a resource for the progress of the common people of our country,” he added.

The ISpA is the premier industry in the association of space and satellites companies in India aspire to be the collective voice of our nation’s space domain.

It will undertake policy advocacy and engage with the Indian space sector stakeholders, including the government and agencies.

ISpA, echoing the PM’s vision of Atma Nirbhar Bharat, will help make the country self-reliant, tech-savvy, and a leading player in the space industry, read the press release (1, 2).

Notably, the ISpA represents leading and worldwide corporations with advanced capabilities in satellite and space technologies.

Its founding members include Tata Group’s Nelco, Larsen and Toubro, OneWeb, Mapmyindia, Bharti Airtel, Ananth Technology, Walchandnagar Industries. Other core members include Mazar India, Centum Electronics, BEL, Azista-BST Aerospace Private Limited, Hughes India, and Godrej. Lt. Gen. Anil Bhatt has been appointed as the new Director-General of the organization.

More About the Indian Space Association

The ISpA is a premier industry association of space tech companies that have been formed to be a collective voice of the entire space industry of the country. Notably, they have been long waiting for a platform to venture into other space endeavors.

ISpA will work with ISRO,

the Indian Space Research Organisation, to assist in the development and implementation of futuristic space policies of India. It will also help increase the capacity development of the industry by promoting and nurturing the startup culture in the space arena.

The launch of ISpA indicates how India has now started to line up with worldwide practices in the space industry, where the participation of the private sector in strategic industries is considered an integral growth and development component (3).

The Significance of the Reform

The slogan of the Indian Space Association is “Bhumandal se Brahmaand tak,” meaning harnessing the potential of space technologies for everything from social applications like telemedicine, tele education, disaster management to interplanetary missions and deep space research.

At the launch, the space industry is a major medium for the progress of our 1.3 billion citizens.

“For India, the space sector translates to better imaging, mappings, and connectivity facilities for our people. It also means better speed from shipment to delivery for businesses, better security and income for fishermen, and improved natural calamity forecast,” he remarked.

PM Modi further talked about how previously, the space sector was only limited to the government. Now, the mindset has changed. Many innovations have been introduced in the sector. The government and startups have now joined hands to lead exponential innovation. It is not the time for linear innovation anymore.

“The 20th-century tendency of attempting to rule the space and the space industry divided the world’s countries. Now, in this 21st century, India will ensure space plays an integral role in connecting and uniting the world.”

It is also worth noting that for some time now, space companies and other space organizations across the globe have been displaying a keen interest in our satellite launching sector, which is well known for providing affordable launching platforms with an exceptional success rate.

Remember our Mangalyaan mission, which had about 75 million USD budget, compared to Nasa’s almost 700 million USD budget for its Maven orbiter? Or India’s Chandrayaan Mission-2 had about 142 million USD in the budget, compared to Avengers: Endgame movie with about 356 million USD production budget? And yes, our space program is still at its nascency (4, 5, 6).

However, ISpA focuses more on exploring and creating avenues in satellite communication networks which can play an integral role in creating an inclusive communication infrastructure that can offer seamless internet connectivity from rural areas to metro cities to the remotest areas of India.

In addition, the Indian space industry has not explored the satellite communication arena, with only about three lakh users of satellite networks as of August 2021. On the other hand, the user base stands at 2.1 million in the United States and 4.5 million in Europe.

Notably, instilling space tech reforms would also help our country make strategic gains over its rivals like China and Pakistan (7).

This is a new India, and it aspires to be a superpower. And to achieve those goals, it needs such strong decisions. With the present government, these long-awaited reforms are finally coming to fruition in almost every sector as we rapidly progress to be a global leader in the world’s technology revolution and be the strongest economy there is.

Does it Mean India Will Have its Own SpaceX Soon?

The day doesn’t seem very far for India to have its mega private aerospace company like SpaceX or Blue Origin. But, we might have to anticipate longer before we start taking commercial flights to the space’ edge and beyond.

Recently, an Indian rocket startup, Agnikul Cosmos, founded in 2017, has received access to ISRO facilities and expertise for developing and testing its rockets’ systems and subsystems. According to Srinath Ravichandran, the CEO and Co-founder of Angikul (8), this access will allow them to utilize ISRO’s facilities to test various systems of their launch vehicles.

“In turn, it will also help us reduce our capital expenditure and expedited testing,” stated Ravichandran. He further added that their next step would be to aim for multiple launches per year and scale the extent of having a launch once every two to three weeks.

“Beyond that, we would focus more on making vehicles more efficient, hence offering even cheaper access to our customers. We are trying to achieve it by innovating on various technologies used in the vehicle.”

Last month, the Chennai-based company received a nod from the Depart of Space to conduct multiple tests and qualify its single-piece, semi-cryogenic 3-D printed engine and other rocket systems at several ISRO centers.

Notably, it is the second agreement that the agency has signed with a rocket maker. Previously on 11th September, the Department of Space had signed with Skyroot Aerospace, a Hyderabad-based space company.

Ravichandran claims that their rocket engines are 100% 3D printed in a single shot. “It allows us to directly assemble what comes out of the printer in our launch vehicle. The biggest advantage is that we can enable rapid launch access and make customizable launch vehicles,” explained Ravichandran.

Agnikul Cosmos aims at developing and launching its first rocket by the end of this year and subsequently developing the capacity to launch service for the satellite.

Notably, in June, India allowed private companies to operate rocket launches within and outside the nation, subject to prior government authorization (9).

According to Draft National Space Transportation Policy 2020 (10), one can launch from own or leased launch site and from mobile platforms, land, sea, or air.

For any rocket launch, suborbital, or orbital from Indian or foreign territory after the authorization from IN-SPACE, Indian National Space Promotion, and Authorization Center. It is an independent body constituted by the Indian government, under the DOS, Department of Space.

Ravichandran also talked about how his company has now planned to build an entire engine building facility in-house. The team believes in their ability to control engine making end-to-end in India. Therefore, not only enabling “Make in India” but also “Design in India.”

In short, if anyone is looking to venture into a space tech startup, they should do it now. It is the best time to do it in India. The present government is forthcoming in terms of being an enabler and helping private missions. It is an excellent time to get things up and running (11, 12).

Opportunities in the Indian Spacetech Space

The Indian space tech industry is worth more than 7 billion USD as of 2019, with the global commercial space industry estimated to be more than 360 billion USD, according to a consulting firm, PwC (13).

Notably, the Indian space tech industry has witnessed immense growth over the past year. Big names like Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Anand Manihara, Coinbase’s Balaji Srinivasan are also investing in the space (14).

And since the Indian space tech segment is still in the nascent stage, there is much room for entrepreneurs and exerts. There is a rising demand for many of them to fill in rising demand across the value chain.

We can divide the space sector into two categories:

  • Upstream: Satellite manufacturing and launching
  • Downstream: Activities based on the use of data offered by space infrastructures like navigations, communications, broadcasting, and more
Indian Space Association

How Can You Enter the Unique and Technical Space Domain?

According to a BusinessInsider report (15), the early entrants of the Indian space industry include Sanjay Nekkanti with Dhruva Space (16), Awais Ahmed with Pixxel (17), and Krish Nair from Kawa Space (18).

While offering their insights to BusinessInsider, Nair stated that any entrepreneur could build a system. One can build it better with more accurate monitoring of methane emissions. There is also always room to build better transportation systems.

One can also find a way to make the launch of satellites much cheaper in any orbit. In other words, opportunities are endless in this space, because well, it is the space we are talking about.

However, there is one thing you will need most, above anything else, the will to get going with your business.

If you desire to build something for the space domain, you need to find gaps like any other market. There is always room to make a better version of an already existing process or find ways to, like launch satellites, much cheaper.

According to Ahmed, you don’t have any connections in ISRO or have networks with the space industry from the beginning.

The web is an excellent place to learn since there are so many things you can refer to, including books, reports, Ph.D. studies, and other materials.

Besides, you can always reach out to people in this segment over social media platforms such as LinkedIn to understand more about the segment. Not sure how to reach out? Read our previous story, Get the Attention of High-Profile Founders, Investors, and Executives With These Tips.

Remember, Elon Musk, one of the most prominent space entrepreneurs, was not associated with anything related to space. He learned and adapted with his growth mindset.

In addition, there is a lot of scope for growth hacking as multiple technologies built for the earth can also come in handy for space operations or some updates.

“So for people with an engineering degree, who wish to be in this industry as an entrepreneur, there are some parts of your work that you can apply in the space domain,” stated Nekkanti from his engineering experience.

There is Also a Buzz Among Investors

The Indian space sector is valued at 7 billion USD in 2019, and as per the PwC mentioned above report, it is likely to grow at a CAGR of 50 billion USD by 2024.

Until recently, funding and gathering investors’ interest was a significant challenge for startups in the Indian space tech industry. There were no policies around it, and no one wanted to take the risk.

As per the BI report, Dhruva and Pixxel had to talk to hundreds of investors before they could consider closing a funding round. However, the scene is changing, and with the government’s decision to privatize the space and allow more companies to enter the space.

Earlier this year, on 21st May, both Agnikul and Skyroot secured more than 11 million USD each (19) from many big names in the industry. According to media reports, these were the most prominent funding rounds the India space tech startups have ever raised so far.