ISRO Chairman Dr. K Sivan on Space opening up to private sector

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ISRO chief Dr K Sivan

Just a couple of days after the cabinet decision to allow reform in India’s Space Sector and the briefing by the ISRO Chairman, many Indian start-ups have expressed interest in participating in space-based activities, said ISRO Chairman DR. K. Sivan. He added that, so far there were no requests from the big players, but he was hoping to get some proposals from them. 

Addressing journalists over a virtual press conference, Dr. Sivan said that ISRO roughly had a 3% share of the $350USD global space economy. He shared a split-up of the global space economy, saying that 48% percent of the share went to ground equipment, 45% to space applications, whereas launch vehicles and satellites comprised only 2% and 5% respectively. 

“Under the present situation, ISRO has reached its limit on providing our services due to manpower limitations and we can’t scale up to more than 3 percent market share. That’s why we need private players to get involved and that will also boost market share when they diversify into many services” Dr. Sivan told WION. 

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Presently, the Indian government funds projects(satellites and rocket launches) and ISRO executes these missions and owns the satellites. ISRO’s space-based services and transponders are then leased to private companies for DTH and other broadcast, communication purposes. But the new reforms are aimed at allowing private companies to build their own satellite, launch it, and also earn more revenue from leasing and its end-to-end operations. 

Given that there are various upcoming big-ticket missions such as Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan-3, SSLV, Aditya L1, etc., he said that there could be a clear picture on when these missions could be completed after the lockdown and Covid-19 situation improves. 

“All our projects are affected due to lockdown. Design and development are under our control and happens within ISRO centers with minimal staff as per local restrictions. But the manufacturing happens across 500 big, small and medium industries across India. Due to the current situation manufacturing activities are not taking place and hardware cannot be supplied to us. Even our scientists can’t travel across India due to the restrictions. A true impact assessment will be available only after normalcy resumes” he said. 

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On the aspect of Private participation in current missions, Dr. Sivan said that the private players can develop certain technologies for the Human Spaceflight programme and the future missions, by seeking details and applying on the ISRO website. 

When asked about India’s second spaceport that is getting ready at Kulasekarapattinam in southern Tamil Nadu, he said that it would be similar to the existing one at Sriharikota, but the location of the second launchpad offered advantages for polar launches. Currently, the land acquisition process is happening for the second launch pad and the acquired land is to be handed over the Department of Space. 

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“Sriharikota launch pads are ideal for Eastward launches but are not so ideal for southward launches for Polar(PSLV, SSLV Missions). When we launch southwards from Sriharikota, there is a landmass below, and also further down south, we have Sri Lanka. Usually, we launch Polar missions towards the south-east and then negotiate Sri Lankan landmass and then proceed further south. This leads to more fuel being spent for the maneuver and it affects the payload capacity of small rockets. But from the Kulasekarapattinam launchpad, we can directly launch southwards’ Dr. Sivan explained. 

Regarding the newly announced vertical called INSPACe, under the Deportment of Space, he said that they aimed to have a technical person(scientist) as its head, rather than a bureaucrat. INSPACe is meant to enable private players to participate in end-trend space activities by coordinating with them, conducting assessments, and providing necessary approvals. 

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