India Continues to Unlock its Spacetech Potential amid Global competition
As an emerging nation, India is viewed to be gradually progressing in its mission of bringing innovations in space technology. From depending on foreign nations for space projects, to having its own robust launch vehicle program, the journey was never an easy one. India had to balance several aspects, while advancing as a new space power.
Over a period time, Indian spacetech programs have skyrocketed to the moon, Mars and beyond. It’s very first rocket to space, set up by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), was launched from Thumba, Kerala, in 1963. Thereafter, ISRO developed economical launch vehicles, when it was denied technology and materials for strategic reasons from foreign sources.
Considering the huge developmental challenges, not much was done to justify the Indian spacetech missions in the early stages. It was only after China conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test in 2007, did India start focusing on the security applications of outer space. It was mindful of the Chinese advances, which focused on competing with the US.
ISRO has remained a key factor driving the Indian space sector so far. Its capability to perform tasks related to space-based applications, space exploration and development of related technologies, has strengthened India’s reforms in the space sector. Today, India has several advantages in terms of tech expertise and relatively lower cost. With the presence of technology innovators, India could definitely evolve as a space start-up hub for the world in the future.
India’s future plans involve the development of the Unified Launch Vehicle, Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, and Reusable launch vehicle, Human Spaceflight, a Space Station, Interplanetary Probes, and a Solar Spacecraft Mission.
In May this year, the space sector was made open to private players. Level-playing field for private companies in satellites, while providing them with access to geospatial data and ISRO facilities and predictable policy for launches and space-based services, were some of the reforms ISRO undertook.
More than 40 start-ups focusing on funding, teams and structure on space and satellite projects are presently functional in India. Even amid the COVID crisis, a slew of Indian space tech start-ups, i.e. Bellatrix Aerospace, Agnikul, Pixxel etc. identified unique opportunities that could solve problems across industries. They even raised funds to accelerate space developments.
The democratisation of space access has brought huge opportunities for in-depth Artificial Intelligence analysis of satellite image data for agriculture, insurance, finance, oil and gas, defence and the environment. Investors, such as Blume Ventures, StartupXCeed and Inflexor Ventures, have placed bets on space startups.
Chennai-based Agnikul and Hyderabad-based Skyroot received the most funding and have continued their objective of building small-satellite launch vehicles. Though space-tech is pivotal, it is considered equally complex and requires various approvals.
The growing international recognition of investments in space has brought a surge in the process. Several foreign actors are also actively incentivising private capital investments in space. Two of the US aerospace companies, SpaceX and Blue Origin, have been leading with billions in funding. This also brings into question, how influential is India’s stance in the whole space matter?