When India’s Department of Space (DoS) sent out invites for a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and industry representatives on 14 December, it did so at short notice. The invitees included Sunil Bharti Mital, promoter of telco Airtel and UK-based satellite constellation OneWeb, as well as a host of young entrepreneurs in satellite design, manufacturing, and launch. No foreign satellite tech companies or operators were invited.
The hour-long meeting saw the PM directly follow up with entrepreneurs and business groups regarding reforms in the space sector his cabinet had approved approved Financial Express Big decision by Modi Cabinet! India unlocks its space infrastructure for private companies Read more in June 2020. These reforms culminated in a draft space communication policy in October that year.
PM Modi’s personal involvement shouldn’t come as a surprise. This was, after all, a pet project of his, explained K Sivan, chairman of the country’s premier space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), to a gathering of the invitees a few days before the meeting. Sivan also holds the position of secretary at DoS.
The October draft policy is the second such policy in 20 years. The first, introduced in 1997, was a spectacular failure in its attempt to foster private participation. Since it was introduced, the country hasn’t seen a single company set up shop and launch satellites. Out of the seven companies that applied to launch and provide satellite services, six were rejected. Hughes Network, the last remaining applicant, is still awaiting a decision. It has been six years of silence.
Space is a strategic sector, critical to national security. Countries manage it with the help of state-funded agencies such as NASA (US). But they’re not the only crucial areas in the sector. There are commercial applications, too. Television broadcast, navigation, and internet are key applications managed by high- and low-orbit satellites.
In India, direct-to-home (DTH) providers and broadcasters such as Tata Sky, Sony, or Zee, among others, buy bandwidth worth ~$2 billion annually from various satellite operators. These include the likes of Isro’s Antrix, the Luxembourg-based SES and IntelSat, and a few others. Antrix was Isro’s commercial arm, but the space agency moved moved The Ken Antrix stuck with $1-billion payout, but India’s busy building a Newspace Read more its commercial business to a new company called NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL), set up in 2019. Antrix provides half the capacity, while the two European operators provide the most of the remaining. The real demand for satellite bandwidth, however, is 2X the current supply.