Public-Private-Partnership is about bringing the elements of government service and private industry profit making needs. An example could be our toll road, where the government has given a private operator permission to build the road, operate it and later on transfer it back to the state once the operator has made sufficient return on it’s investment. For the remote sensing industry, it could be that the government agency builds upon a technology, demonstrates it and later on brings in private players to run it profitably. Well, within the two decades of the emergence of satellite remote sensing, US Congress realised it’s importance for the civilian purpose and came up with a policy in 1979, which was an effort to transfer the responsibility to develop the remote sensing satellites to the private sector. In 1984, the Land Remote-Sensing Commercialization Act, initiated the process of transferring the government owned Landsat satellite programme to private sector. The above policy was not a kind of ‘Shoot and forget’, realising that the market was yet make the private sector venture into the remote sensing programme a viable option, it came up with Land Remote Sensing Policy Act 1992, which clearly states that commercialisation of remote sensing would be a long term goal of the US government. Although, this act, also marked the return of Landsat back into the public sector. But this did not lead to clipping of private sector remote sensing initiatives. As per the Commercial Remote Sensing Report for Congress 2002, the industry was yet to turn profitable and it depended largely on purchases by the federal government to remain in operation. The large purchase orders from federal agencies are not just project based, but as a part of long term strategy to create a healthy and competitive commercial remote sensing industry in US. But, the model is not bleeding US government. The cost which is far less than what they otherwise would have incurred, if they would have been handing design to launch of remote sensing satellites.
In Europe, formation of Infoterra in 2001, which last month sent it’s first radar imaging satellite, TerraSAR- X, marked the age of public-private partnership in Germany. The foundation of Infoterra is the need to capitalise on the potential offered through the growing commercial need of satellite images in civil domain. The multi-nation partnership model through SPOT between France, Belgium and Sweden, has not only seen launch of it’s own remote sensing satellites, but has even build remote sensing satellite for other countries like Korea. In UK, we have Surrey Satellite Technology [SSTL] which was formed in 1985, to commercialise the research done on small satellite engineering at University of Surrey. Today we have SSTL, which has build the first of the Galileo satellite, GIOVE-A, in addition to have designed and build remote sensing satellites for Algeria, Nigeria, Turkey, China and UK.
In Africa, we see Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa, who are in the process or have their own earth observation satellites. Factors leading to more and more nations joining the league of satellites remote sensing could range from technical expertise to nations’ pride to commercialization of remote sensing satellite fabrication.
In Asia, we have nations leading the remote sensing satellite design and launch. But almost all of these programmes are managed by the state, from design to fabrication to imagery data sales. There is a growing requirements of satellite imagery for the civil purpose. Along with this there is also realisation that services should best be left to be managed by private companies. But not in satellite remote sensing segment, which is yet to overcome the initial awe, which we have on seeing a high resolution image! We do look at other people for precedents, so does the nations. If not the thought leadership, we can always adopt good public-private models..