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REGIONS ASIA-PACIFIC


WEHAVE THE TALENT TO BEAMONG THE BEST IN THEWORLD


India’sspacequest W


THE COUNTRY’S SPACE AGENCY IS BACKING LOCAL START-UPS, BUT GOVERNMENT COULD DO MORE TO BOOST THE PRIVATE SECTOR, SAY SMALL FIRMS. MEGHA BAHREE REPORTS


hen in 2011, Gadhadhar Reddy co-founded his start- up to make carbon nano-


tubes – a material 100 times stronger than steel and nearly 200,000 times thinner than a strand of hair – to be sold for building rockets, the near- universal response was that this was ‘not possible’. Mr Reddy shortened this to name his company, located in the southern Indian city of Bangalore, NoPo Technologies. Eight


years later, his product was declared one of the best in the world in its category. “In India, we lack confidence,” says Mr


Reddy. “If you have something out of the box, there’s huge scepticism around it.” While India is known for its software engi-


neers, that belief does not really extend to cut- ting edge space technology despite the country having a well-respected national space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). India’s space sector has so far been domi-


nated by ISRO and the legacy companies that service it, making a range of hardware compo- nents and subsets including electronics for communication satellites and rocket engines. In the past decade or so, however, around 50 start-ups have emerged and are doing both upstream work and downstream work. The for- mer includes NoPo, which is making highly advanced material; Agnikul Cosmos, which is building a 3D-printed rocket engine;andPixxel, which aims to put a constellation of satellites in space to collect data. In the downstream area, start-ups such as Numer8 and SatSure use data fromsatellite images for actionable intelligence for sectors including fisheries, agriculture and climate change mitigation.


Regulatoryupdates The market opportunity of the global civil and commercial space market is already valued at about $371bn, according to a December report by consultancyPwC, a prospect that the govern-


66


ment is finally recognising. In March 2019, it set up NewSpace India Ltd


(NSIL) to be ISRO’scommercial arm,tasked with transferring technology for small satellites to the private sector and manufacturing launch vehicles for them in collaboration with the industry, among other things. In February 2021, the government allocated close to $100m to it, despite concerns in the industry this could give rise to conflicts of interest and that instead it should give grants directly to start-ups. In another policy move, in June 2020 the


government announced a single window nodal agency under the department of space, to facilitate and regulate space activities as well as the use of ISRO facilities by private sec- tor businesses – a massive cost saving, espe- cially for start-ups. Known as the Indian National Space


Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe), it aims to help them build launch vehicles and satellites, enable sharing ISRO’s technology and facilities and help them regis- ter and operate spacecraft, an otherwise com- plex and time-consuming process. The move is applauded by many as a step in the right direc- tion even though it is yet to appoint people to get the job going and is currently operating in an ad-hoc manner with personnel from ISRO, NSIL and the department of space. “We have the talent to be among the best in


the world,” says Susmita Mohanty, spaceship designer and serial space entrepreneur and a mentor tomany of the new generation of space start-ups. “We need to encourage the private sector, we need progressive policies.” Ms Mohanty, who started India’s first pri-


vate sector space start-up in 2004 and who has previously closely worked with the space pro- grammes of Europe and the US, says another reason to build up the private space sector is that those start-ups will not only bring in inno- vation and disruption, giving the country a competitive edge, but will also help propel the economy and create jobs.


www.fDiIntelligence.com June/July 2021


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