India's space policy to let private companies run SpaceX-like projects
Private companies in India will finally be allowed to launch their own commercial space projects by this year-end with the government set to soon announce the new space policy, said Pawan Goenka, chairman of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), the nodal government space agency.
Speaking in an interview, Goenka said the first batch of five Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs) built by a consortium of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Larsen and Toubro Ltd will be used solely by ISRO. This would be the first instance wherein an entire rocket would be built outside the space agency.
“Once the first phase of privately-built PSLV deployment is completed, future PSLVs will be supplied to the private sector as well—who can use these higher capacity launch vehicles to conduct bigger commercial missions,” Goenka said on Tuesday at the inauguration of the headquarters of the Indian Space Association (ISpA).
The government’s long-awaited space policy is “almost” ready and it could be introduced in the coming weeks, said Goenka adding that the policy will “ease all regulatory hurdles” for private space firms in the country.
Currently, Indian companies aren’t allowed to use ISRO’s facilities for space projects such as those done by America’s SpaceX and Orbital Sciences. Therefore, Indian firms such as Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot Aerospace, who are building their own rockets, cannot use ISRO’s facilities to launch them at the moment, a rule that the space policy is expected to change. Letting private firms conduct space missions has worked in favour of nations such as the US, spurring private sector investments. For instance, reusable Falcon 9 rockets built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX have become a favourite for space projects globally. Indian startups, on the other hand, could focus on making cheaper launch vehicles and new designs.
The new space policy is also expected to allow Indian private firms work alongside government entities for commercial space missions. ISRO will be mostly tasked with the R&D work, said industry experts.
Chaitanya Giri, a consultant with think-tank Research and Information System for Developing Countries, said privately-built PSLV rockets will help upgrade the launch vehicle’s design, scale production, and enable Indian startups to take on a greater number of launches.
“The present PSLV we have is built by ISRO, which is not a commercial entity. Even though the PSLV is known as ISRO’s workhorse, the latter has so far worked since the number of satellite launches conducted by India has been quite limited. If we aim to capture a large share of the global pie for commercial space launches, we need a larger number of launch vehicles with better configurations,” Giri said.
ISRO’s PSLVs have so far been used to launch government and commercial satellites to low and medium Earth orbits. On 30 June, the PSLV-C53 rocket made headlines as it carried the first privately-made Indian satellites to orbit.
Kranthi Chand, head of strategy at private space startup Dhruva Space, said privately-built PSLV rockets can help “more PSLV launches to be available” for companies looking to launch their satellites. “A higher number of launches would also lead to a greater push towards commercial missions,” he added.
Dhruva now plans to have a satellite onboard the next ISRO PSLV mission as well. Companies like Chennai-based Agnikul Cosmos and Bengaluru-based Skyroot Aerospace are also building affordable rockets for small satellite launches, which leaves the room open for the upcoming PSLVs to launch heavier satellites.
The configuration of a rocket defines the overall weight and types of payloads that it can carry to orbit. Giri said privately-built PSLVs will offer an upgrade over their present capacities. “If we plan to attract satellite launch orders from around the world, we would need launch vehicles that can carry large satellites of 1.5 tons or bigger to orbit. The new generation PSLVs can help private companies achieve that,” he added.