On the announcement of a slew of reforms in the Space Sector by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, distinguished scientist and Advisor with the Department of Space Tapan Misra has observed that these reforms will go a long way in bringing space technology from R&D labs to commercial arena. These reforms, according to him, are only the beginning. He goes on to underscore that “Technology must leap out from labs to become an instigator of employment and wealth generation”. We are publishing his comments on the burning subject. He had offered these views to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in June 2019.
1. Of the present global space economy of $360 B, 1.7% revenue comes from launch segment, 5.3% from satellite manufacturing, 35% from satellite services or payloads and another 34.7% from ground services. If we target even 5 percent of global space economy, we are staring at a business potential of more than Rs. 125,000 cr. But ISRO’s turnover is hovering around 10000 cr. We have a huge potential in space industry which we could not harness in commercial sense.
2. If we have to become a reasonable player of global space economy, our thrust areas for innovation and production should be payloads and ground hardware.
3. Space business has to be bifurcated into two segments: (a) innovation and (b) operation and production. Innovation requires inspirational leadership and generally different and high quality manpower and a stimulating work environment.
Production and operation requires different managerial leadership, strong but a comparatively less number of techno-management specialists to man shop floor management and business operation and a work force of comparatively high skilled manpower. Also the work environment has to be target oriented and hence comparatively more regimented.
Because of contradictory requirements, it is prudent to separate them but with a strong interaction mechanism. First part can be led by ISRO and Government to ensure stability, risk taking in technology and maintaing certain relaxed environment for innovation. ISRO should play henceforth a catalyst in triggering innovations by coopting start ups and R&D of private sectors. This synergy will trigger innovations, designed towards not only producing quality technology but a cheaper and competitive cost advantage and taking certain elements of those innovations to day to day commercial, mass production technology.
Second part can be handed over to private players, for employment generation and scaling up production and turnover.
4. In my personal view, ISRO, start ups and industries targeting Space R&D should concentrate on innovation on technology, future technology prediction, indigenisation. The areas suitable for inclusion under this umbrella are:
– Mission design, planning, mangement and execution
– most of the new innovation, production of first and second version of various payloads like optical cameras, radar sensors, communication and navigation payloads, planetary payloads
– New algorithms, data processing concepts, data mining and assimilation
– new satellite configuration and innovation in satellite control technology elements and software, satellite and planetary navigation
– new rocket engines, scaling up of rocket engines, hybrid platforms, new fuels and materials, aerodynamic and navigation research
– Human Space missions
– space stations
– planetary and asteroid missions
– debris tracking and debris management
– innovative manufacturing tools and processes
– innovative material science
-handholding and manpower training of private players
Fundamental space science research needs wide variety of expertise and we should encourage university system to pick up this challenge.
5. Satellite application and data research should be opened up for innovative small industries and start ups to tap into imagination potential of Indian technical and scientific brains. These industries will need less capital but innovative minds of varied expertise.
6. We should make our remote sensing data easily available to Indians, preferably with a click of a mouse. I am convinced of innovativeness of our country’s technical and scientific minds. They will churn out innumerable utilisation and applications, which will not only be profitable to themselves but also to the country. In my view, slow growth of utilisation and application of remote sensing data in India can be attributed to restrictions on data availability.
7. The major issue in private space industry is not investment but suitable skilled manpower and savy management expertise and production engineers. So modalities and incentives of migration and sharing of ISRO expertise to private space industries are to be worked out. All said and done hand holding by ISRO expertise will go a long way in hastening this space revolution.
8. ISRO has mammoth facilities. Private sectors will need time to build those facilities. Plus huge investment in initial period which can be a deterring factor. In the interim period ISRO facilities are to be shared with private players for fast take off. This is where many tricky things are to be traversed and certain policy initiatives in costing, guarantee requirements, time and space sharing are to be worked out.
The author, Tapan Misra, is a distinguished scientist. At present, he is Advisor in the Department of Space, Government of India. He has headed the Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmedabad, and has the credit of developing space-borne radars, capable of piercing through clouds and are especially used for military surveillance, predicting cyclones and mapping the cropping pattern.