An Indian Space Law: Long Overdue (By- Dr.S.Krishnan & Visheshta)

As outlined in this brief, the administrative structure for space science and technology in India is similar to the one adopted for nuclear science and technology. The space sector must now move on a different path. The Atomic Energy Act of 1962 places all nuclear materials, activity and technologies firmly under the purview of the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE). The Secretary of the DAE (under the direct charge of the prime minister) is the ex-officio Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission which oversees the DAE. Even after the separation of the civilian and strategic nuclear fuel cycle and its activities, the same person controls both. This approach has resulted in the comparative absence of the private sector in DAE’s activities, except as Tier2/Tier3 suppliers. This posed little challenge to the nuclear sector, as priority has always been accorded to the strategic dimension of the nuclear programme. The absence of the private sector in setting up and operating nuclear power plants has never been perceived as a major shortcoming.
The situation with ISRO is different. ISRO is primarily a civilian organisation and is best placed to concentrate on the challenge of national development while letting MoD look after the military dimensions of space technologies. ISRO can continue to fabricate and launch satellites for MoD but then it should be handed over to the Defence Space Agency. ISRO, with its budget of US$1.3 billion and Antrix with a turnover of US$300 million, need to unleash the potential of the private sector if India aims to achieve 10 percent of the global space economy by 2030. This means moving from the current levels of US$7 billion to over US$70 billion. While this may be achievable, ISRO must shed some of its activities and focus on what it can do best with its limited budgets. It may also need to cut the umbilical link with Antrix to avoid conflicts of interest caused by overlapping roles of supplier, intermediary, policy formulator and arbitrator. This is where ISRO needs to part wayswiththe DAEadministrativearchitecture. It should look for a Space Activities Bill that embraces its partnership with the private sector, particularly with the entrepreneurial players in New Space. A vibrant startup culture is emerging in India on the heels of the IT boom making use of data, mobile telephony and identity-based Aadhar. With more than 30000 startups today, India boasts of a score of unicorns. Years ago, ISRO launched the idea of Village Resource Centres to work in collaboration with local Panchayats and NGOs but only 460 pilots have begun. Expanding this is a formidable challenge but has the potential to transform rural India if properly conceived as a part of the India Stack15 and the Jan Dhan Yojana.16 
New Space startups have been nurtured by both the US space agency NASA and the European Space Agency by using the incubator approach; this can be explored by ISRO. Moreover, ISRO needs to develop Tier-1 vendors and original equipment manufacturers. Fortunately, there is movement in this direction. There is the idea of commercialising the tried and tested PSLV launch technology. A small satellite revolution is underway. Globally, 17000 small satellites are expected to be launched between now and 2030. The number of global space launches has more than doubled over the last three years, with SpaceX leading the way with lower launch costs. ISRO is also developing a small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) expected to be ready this year. Designed with a capability to place a payload of 500 kg in a low earth orbital of 500 km, the SSLV is aimed at the
commercial small satellite launch market. It is a prime candidate, along with the proven PSLV, to be farmed out to the private sector. This will require giving private entities responsibility for AIT activities. India needs a suitable Space Activities law backed by appropriate rules and regulations. This will support and enable the growth of the current US$7-billion space economy to a US$70-billion-dollar space economy by 2030, as the country aims to become a major space power.