Startup spree: How Indian engineers can rejuvenate India’s spacetech ecosystem

With Indian startups building cutting edge, satellite communication technology for space and on ground, which can help India penetrate into rural broadband as well as solve similar needs in developed and developing countries.
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The Indian Space Programme had humble beginnings in 1962 at the INCOSPAR, which led to the formation of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) just a month after the first person landed on the moon in 1969.

Breaking the often-cited imagery of satellites on bullock carts, ISRO has been instrumental in meeting the ever-growing needs of the country.

Having played a significant role in socio-economic development through its Indian Remote Sensing Satellite System (IRS) and Indian National Satellite System (INSAT), ISRO has expanded itself to be the premier research organisation in the country, pushing the boundaries of scientific and technological progress.

With its growth, ISRO developed indigenous capability by growing a rich ecosystem of large, medium, and small-scale industries that support its development.

With the increasing needs of the country, the private sector is witnessing an expansion in these capabilities in the form of startups and large companies diversifying their interests. The US and China operate over a few hundred active satellites today.

Compared to this, India operates less than a hundred satellites. In addition to this, the global valuation of the space technology industry is expected to grow to $1.4 trillion by 2030. With these needs and opportunities in sight, ISRO and the Government of India have been formulating policies to enable rapid and easy expansion of the private space sector in the country.

It is important to make quick progress which will not only help India bring socio-economic developments, but also ensure India creates a leadership position in the global space industry

In addition to the existing private ecosystem, ISRO has contributed significantly to the development of education and talent. The Small Satellite Projects division has worked with over ten educational institutions across the country in the last two decades in fostering interest in space technology for future generations.

This has resulted in a host of homegrown technologies including satellite design and assembly, launch vehicles, advanced propulsion systems, and communication systems.

A recent development within ISRO, in the establishment of IN-SPACe towards increasing the collaboration for use of infrastructure, sharing of expertise and technology transfer with the private sector has been widely lauded.

The draft space policy bill has undergone multiple revisions with inputs from both commercial and research stakeholders. ISRO has also been accelerating space development with interplanetary missions in the last few years, and most recently, with an increased focus on human space flight missions.

It has been demonstrated that access to space technology considerably improves life on the ground. Notwithstanding the focus on socio-economic needs, ISRO has developed a mission in the pursuit of science and knowledge. In addition to Lunar and Martian missions, scientific missions focusing on studies of planetary atmospheres, solar atmosphere, and astronomical studies are planned.

Space agencies and countries around the world have collaborated extensively and have taken huge strides. The last decade has witnessed increased awareness and interest in the need for space technology. The pandemic has not impacted overall investment as these cater to largely B2G or B2B customers

Technological development on the ground has grown rapidly, and there has been an augmented adoption of this in space. Even in 2021, over a hundred countries are yet to become space-faring nations.

With liberalised space policies and incredible technologies coming out from new space startups, the Indian space economy shall not witness its Apollo moment but also bring more nations to space. Our startups are attracting global attention and support.

The joint partnership of ISRO and academic institutions has led to startups like Dhruva Space emerge, which is one of the first private space startups in the country founded way back in 2012 by Sanjay Nekkanti. As undergraduate students, the team built and launched India’s first student nanosatellite (SRMSAT).

Now, the company has quickly grown to provide end-to-end solutions involving building, operating, and launching space systems. Similarly, Indian startups like Bellatrix, Agnikul, Skyroot etc are working closely with space ecosystems like ISRO/Ispace (ISRO’s startup programme), Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre building technologies and requisite infrastructure.

Currently, India contributes to 3 percent of the global space economy. This is expected to grow to 10 percent with the increased collaboration of the public and private sectors.

Several Indian startups have joined hands to enhance the role of indigenous technologies in future generation communication systems such as 6G, security of satellites, ground stations, data processing, assimilation for communication, LEO communication, and imaging technology and geospatial application sectors.

Edited by Kanishk Singh

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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