After Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s Finance Minister, announced the entry of private sector into India’s space race earlier this year, the space sector is all set to open up even more to private players, as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has released the new draft Spacecom policy 2020. The policy will not only allow private space companies from India to use orbital slots, satellites, and ground stations that are already in orbit for communication needs, but also encourage them to launch satellites of their own, providing services to foreign nations.

The draft reads, “The ‘Spacecom Policy-2020’ aims at meeting the growing demands of space-based communication requirements of the nation and advancements in the relevant technologies for self-sustenance in areas of commercial, secured and societal
Draft Spacecom Policy – 2020 2communications. The Policy fosters the promotion of Indian industry as co-traveller along with the Department of Space (DoS) towards meeting these objectives.”

According to this new policy, the government of India will take measures to monitor and authorize the use of space assets for communication to or from Indian territory. The government will also be responsible for protecting these space assets that have been put in place and shall bring in more space assets under the administrative control to grow the ability to use satellite-based communications for national needs.

The draft also points out that any private company sending communication satellite into space will be held responsible for any damages to other objects in space and the environment. The DoS requires a financial guarantee or insurance cover from the companies at the time of authorization approval to cover for the damage that might be caused in the future.

Moreover, ISRO is encouraging private space companies to participate in providing space-based communication in India and foreign countries as well. To this end, the draft says, “The non-government private entities can play a big role in addressing the growing demand within India and also use the opportunity to be important players in the international space communications market.” The private firms can use Indian orbital resources on a commercial basis from the designated entities authorized by the DoS. Whereas, there are certain norms to be followed to use foreign orbital resources.

The Spacecom policy 2020 also talks about space-based communications for requirements that cannot be effectively, affordably and reliably met by the private players. Other communication requirements pertaining to applications in the domains of national security, strategic communications, surveillance and critical economic transactions will be developed and authorized by the government and DoS themselves.

Participation of private parties in space-based communication would also require a regulatory body to monitor them. The Spacecom policy states, an autonomous body under the DoS will be authorized to monitor all Satcom activities.

The DoS has retained the power to develop and monitor societal communications of India. It said, “space-based communication systems with objectives of societal development such as social empowerment, providing access to health care and education, rural/tribal development, meeting emergency communication requirements, supporting disaster management, etc., for reasons of economic viability or sustainability shall be realized by DOS.”

Many Indian space companies have come forward to applaud the new Spacecom Policy 2020. The policy opens up more opportunities for Indian space startups to grow in the private space industry. Various space startup founders have expressed that these changes will help in the growth of small satellite launches. The draft states that the participation of private entities in the space communication sector of India will also establish India as a significant player in the global space communication sector.

Rajeswari Rajagopalan, head of Nuclear and Space policy at the Observer Research Foundation said, “Although I haven’t gone through the policy yet, it is a step in the right direction. However, what we really need is a comprehensive space policy that will map out how will the government’s announcement of opening up the space sector be actually executed, and the policy and regulatory framework that would be needed. Such a policy will also map out the scientific missions that will be undertaken by ISRO, while leaving the routine missions to the private sector. It should clearly detail the needs of India’s space sector and allow for a fair competition for the private space sector to deliver.”

The draft is currently seeking comments from concerned authorities till November 4 and will come into effect once the Indian Union cabinet clears it.