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India’s decision to allow private participation in space sector gets a thumbs up

Coupled with the intention of having liberalized geospatial data policies, this could yield good results in future, believe experts

The move will enable private companies to play a role in inter-planetary and outer space explorations in future
The move will enable private companies to play a role in inter-planetary and outer space explorations in future

As part of its structural reforms to rebuild the economy and make it more self-reliant and resilient, the Indian government has decided to allow private players to be part of the country’s larger space program, which includes satellites, launches and space-based services. The move is being viewed as a paradigm shift in the space sector, and will enable private companies to play a role in inter-planetary and outer space explorations in future, apart from accessing facilities and services of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“India won’t look inwards and won’t be self-isolationist as it tries to be self-reliant,” Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a recent press conference, while listing “structural reforms” in multiple sectors, including coal, minerals, defense production, civil aviation, power distribution, space research and atomic energy.

Acknowledging the “innovative space technology” developed by private players, the minister stressed that by using the facilities and assets of the Indian Space Research Organisation, private companies and startups will have an opportunity to enhance their capabilities.

Shortly after the minister’s announcements, ISRO issued a public statement saying, “Department of Space will follow government guidelines and enable private players to carry out space activities in the country.”  

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Multiple benefits

The announcement has been received positively by both experts and tech industry players, who feel that, with proper implementation, it could yield good results. “The intention behind the announcement is good. However, what we will have to wait and see is the implementation. If implemented properly, it will boost employment generation and enhance overall efficiency and decision-making,” said Professor Arup Dasgupta, former Deputy Director of Satellite Communication and IT Application at ISRO.

Professor Dasgupta added that while ISRO must continue to lead the R&D, private players should be handed over the operational roles. “At this point in time, this will be the best model.” With the space sector playing a significant role in strengthening the mankind’s response to COVID-19 global pandemic, the Indian government’s decision will also contribute in the overall capacity building and resilience.   

“The announcements made by the Finance Minister on 16th May are very positive for the Indian geospatial community. The government plans to allow private firms to use ISRO facilities for testing and launch of satellites. It is a big encouragement for our budding space technology startups. The initiative will reduce the cost of projects and launch time for the Indian private players. Overall, the space technology sector will become more competitive at the global level,” said Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India.

Liberalizing data policy

Emphasizing on the issue of data availability, the Finance Minister said that there is a lot of geospatial data in India, but is not available to private companies and startups. “Currently, such companies have to go abroad, but that will now change. This is a sensitive area and will follow strict guidelines, but will make information available to private players.”

Welcoming the government’s intention of liberalizing geospatial data policies, Agendra Kumar said, “This will be a step in the right direction. If geospatial data is made available to various users in the country in a liberalized manner, it will be of immense help in economic growth and successful implementation of many other projects launched by the government.”

Similarly, Nikhil Kumar, Country Head – India, HERE Technologies, said, “The government today is placing significant thrust on supply chain in its pursuit to close the gap between production and demand through various trenches of financial support to the economy. This significantly enhances the importance of location data and intelligence, and a liberal geospatial policy in the entire continuum of capture to consume will plentifully augment efficiency and productivity in various aspects of economic activities in the current scenario, as well going forward.”

“The government will provide predictable policy and regulatory environment and allow private sector to use ISRO facilities. Future projects for travel in outer space or exploration of new planets will be open to the private sector. The government will ease geospatial data policy to make such remote sensing data more widely available to tech entrepreneurs, with safeguards put in place,” the minister said in her announcement.

In case of a severe health crisis like the one the world is facing currently, geodata and satellite data-driven solutions have the potential to boost the supply chain through transparency and traceability. The near real-time information provided by satellites can help in plugging the gaps and making decisions based on accurate and unbiased information.

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