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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

The urgent need to develop space technology

Today Bharat is much short of space capacity for either state’s internal or commercial needs and it does not have home grown technology players in the private sector who can provide this capacity soon enough.

Tomorrow, those who have the technology will be leaders and able to control their economy and security well.

“A grave situation indeed when you look at the looming global technology scenario and security needs,” Rakesh Sasibhushan, Chairman, CII National Committee on Space, told IANS in an interview on his ideas about the transformation of the bharatiya space sector.

He said, today battles are fought more and more with technology rather than sheer might!

“We are living in a society driven by technology. Tomorrow, those who have the technology will be leaders and able to control their economy and security well,” Sasibhushan who is also the Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Antrix Corporation said.

Bharat’s requirement of high-tech devices, applications and services are rising fast and space is the next frontier that countries have started to look at.

Countries who followed a more liberal space policy have in their possession an array of companies and technologies and are ready to meet the challenges demanded by the fast changing markets, security needs and political scenarios.

He agreed that the Bharatiya government realised this need and has rightly de-regulated the sector.

But some more measures need to be done.

According to him, looking at the future requirements of India it is inevitable that a strong technology ecosystem is built fast.

However, for building the eco-system it is very important to enable the industry with foreseeable demand, funding mechanisms and technology.

“While many countries, including Bharat, have the wherewithal to manage the first two, the last one, i.e., technology, is a difficult hurdle to cross,” he remarked.

Sasibhushan said Bharat is sitting on a good pedestal as far as technology is concerned, thanks to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), having the critical technologies, skills and labs for building state-of-the-art space systems and most of all the pedigree as a leading actor in space.

But this strength is not passed on to the industry as yet, due to various reasons.

The Bharatiya space agency ISRO is a robust technical organisation and a store-house of technology with a proven track record of developing difficult and complex space technologies, and applying them successfully. ISRO is also fully vertically integrated for the manufacture, assembly and testing of these systems.

“But ISRO follows a traditional model of outsourcing where there are few technology partners. Instead, various services required for carrying out the system integration activities, like manufacturing, chemicals, propellants, electronic sub-systems and others are outsourced to industry,” he said.

Critical value addition activities are carried out at ISRO facilities and taken forward internally. Result is that a majority of ISRO’s sub-contractors does not have the technology to build commercially viable space systems, Sasibhushan pointed out.

According to him, the time is ripe for the Department of Space (DoS) to come out with an outsourcing policy to enable Indian industry with technology and make them capable of standing on their feet in the global market.

“Manufacturing in Bharat, with home grown technology will help the industry not only to close the demand-supply gap, but also to compete well in the global market,” Sasibhushan said.

Currently Bharat’s share in the global space industry revenues is less than three per cent in spite of huge governmental push and funding, mainly due to capacity and production related issues.

According to ‘Brycetech’ the global satellite industry revenues are pegged at $271 billion. Bharat contributes to all segments with the largest contribution being satellite services, Sasibhushan said.

“The main issues that hinder Bharat from increasing its market share are: (a) pricing as systems are made in an R&D mode, control of costs is an issue (b) capacity – exploiting the market requires assured capacity. ISRO lacks capacity to address commercial needs and (c) Private industry’s involvement. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said ‘Government has no business to be in business’. While the government fully understands and supports this notion, this is to be fully implemented for increasing the share of pie,” he said.

According to him, full scale industrial partnership will allow ISRO to focus on what they’re good at — space technology development and addressing governmental needs! Commercials should be left to the industry and ISRO should enable it.

He said ISRO should step-up and form partnerships and be an active player in the run-up to build an Bharatiya Space ecosystem.

Such a push will be a great driver for technology growth, future R&D in the private sector, and will complement the growth of other technology areas and make Bharat truly “Atmanirbhar” in the space domain.

On the issue of business models, Sasibhushan said: “There are many solutions. Transfer of technology may hold good for certain small systems. But others, like satellites may require outsourcing with hand holding and use of ISRO’s facilities and expertise. Joint venture with Antrix Corporation or NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) is also an option for, say, small satellites to begin with.”

Now that the ground station segment is deregulated, the ground station capacity may be mapped to Antrix/NSIL platforms for efficient marketing.

“A dedicated mechanism to update this capacity on a daily basis is a must. Actions to be taken to hand over this spare capacity to Antrix/NSIL or industry and ask them to run it for controlling costs. Here training of man-power and 24×7 operations are required,” Sasibhushan said.

While Bharat has been launching third party small satellites, such orders are from limited markets.

Queried about widening the market geographies, Sasibhushan said: “Today the launch market is highly price competitive and we’re struggling. Many more small satellite launchers are on the horizon promising much lower per Kg costs than we are at present! Unless ISRO hands over this technology to the private sector, we will continue to struggle. Hopefully, the Indian start-ups in the launch vehicle domain will solve this problem!”

He also said the DoS should take the initiative and advise the government on evolving the policy on insurance for rockets and satellites based on what other countries are practising and our own specific issues to address the requirements of UN Outer Space Treaties.

(The story has been published via a syndicated feed.)

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