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Emerging Space opportunities in India

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recent announcement on boosting private participation in Space activities has spurred a new wave of excitement in the sector. As an after effect of the announcement, to bring in more clarity on the partnership opportunities, leaders from the sector came together on a virtual session on June 5,2020.

In the session on ‘New Space Opportunities in India’ experts from ISRO, CII, Institute of Science and Technology (IIST), JNTU-H, ISG and TEQIP III shared valuable insights on how the private sector, academic and research institutes could leverage on the new opportunities in the space sector and how this participation will boost the sector and the economy.

Prof. A Govardhan, Rector & In-charge-Registrar, JNTU-H started the session on a positive note by saying, “The new developments in the space sector will greatly boost the economy. With private companies coming in the space sector, there will be more employment, innovations and lot of growth in the space industry.” 

Taking the discussion further, Mr. Vagish Dixit, Convenor, Education & Skills Panel India CII Telangana & MD& CEO, ALPLA India Pvt Ltd. said, “The time is ripe for the private sector to enter the commercial space sector. We need to build and nurture an ecosystem where the public and private sectors work collaboratively. The government must function as a facilitator, friend and regulator. It should handhold private start-ups and encourage them to venture into the space domain. Through public-private partnership, the Indian space sector can effectively reach its target of being a $50 billion worth industry in the next 5 years.”  

Also Read: Commercialization of space activities in India

Dr. YVN Krishna Murthy, Senior Professor & Registrar IIST, Dept of Space, Govt of India provided clearer direction on the subject of public-private partnership in the space sector by right away outlining few domains within the sector where the private start-ups should focus on investing. He outlined some interesting entrepreneurial opportunities. He said private companies should think of contributing in areas of crop insurance, soil conservation, fisheries since in these areas they can make significant difference with less investment. 

Citing the example of SatSure, an innovative analytics company based on expanding the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, he said that private companies need to think what difference can they make? What innovation can they bring in the sector for better outcomes? How they can bring in IoT data? They must try to beat the market with their innovation. 

Instead of repeating, which is already there, they must try to beat the market with new technologies. This will make them more useful. An area where the private companies must focus on is devising Locust Early Warning Systems. Data is available. The companies need to think how to use this data to provide such valuable services. 

Mr. Walter Mayor, CEO, ProGis-Austria, addressing the necessity of adopting Geospatial approach for biodiversity conservation, mentioned, “We have to integrate better in future. We have to go from data to information to precise decision-making to integrated decision-making. While exploring new opportunities in the space sector, private companies must focus on solving problems and building a good future. They have to think beyond short term gains. They have to develop solutions that reduce ecology damages and aid in building a sustainable world.”

The discussion on new opportunities in space in India gained a new life when Former Chairman of ISRO, Dr. Kiran Kumar came on board. He reinforced the point that the entire planet has to live as one system. He said, “Like the reset button on our computer, COVID-19 has made all of us to rethink and reset the way we live and work. The entire planet is one family. We need to work together.”

“India has developed end to end capabilities in space opportunities, be it space exploration, space tourism, space adventure, space exploitation. A private enterprise recently took humans to space. Such efforts are needed for the development of the Indian Space Sector. More and more people have to do jobs at a rapid pace. We all are aware that government has its own pace due to the number of processes it has to follow. Things can happen fast when private entrepreneurs invest time, money and energy in the space sector. However, the private sector must not only focus on maximizing returns but on holistic development of the sector and the planet.”

Touching upon the subject of developing the capabilities of the younger generation, he rightly mentioned, “Rapid progress in building technological capabilities of the younger generation must be made. ISRO is building incubation centres, fostering academic partnership programs. Many such efforts are needed. We have to be bold in moving ahead. The government must play an active role in enabling academicians, industry, the young generation for facilitating new opportunities in the Indian space sector.”

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The fiery comments of Dr. Pavuluri Subba Rao, CMD, Ananth Technologies brought a new perspective to the discussion. His comments touched upon a pain area. Indian Remote Sensing policies have long been criticized for stifling the growth of the space sector and he rightly pointed out that for strengthening the sector and the private-public partnership to flourish, it is necessary to revamp the policies. 

He said, “More encouraging policies can make the space sector a level playing field for the private sector.”

His views on the developments required on the academic front were also spot on. He pointed out that the universities need to update the curriculum such that the students become more job ready for the new age space sector. We must make the students suitable for meeting the industry needs. Faculties also need to be more aware about the industry trends. Inviting industry-experts to the universities could be a good way of making the students aware of the latest developments taking place in the industry.  

As part of the COVID Stimulus Package, the Government of India is encouraging the Private Sector Participation in Space Sector and the eminent speakers present in the virtual session on new space opportunities in India provided valuable points as to how the space sector can develop a robust ecosystem, where everyone contributes and thrives equally. The public-private partnership is definitely the way to go forward!

Also Read: Working for the common good drives me: Kiran Kumar, former ISRO chief