India releases space policy detailing public and private cooperation guidelines

India releases space policy detailing public and private cooperation guidelines
Apr 2023

After much anticipation and a series of consultations and feedback from various stakeholders, India has finally released its much-awaited policy establishing guidelines and rules for the country's space ecosystem.

On Thursday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released the final version (PDF) of its "Indian Space Policy 2023," received approval from the country's supreme decision-making body earlier this month.

The policy emphasizes the Indian government's aim to "augment space capabilities" and brings "regulatory certainty" to the space sector reforms that were announced in 2020. It also sketches out the role and responsibilities of the newly-formed Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), which works with private players including space tech startups in the country to develop solutions and services for the space sector.

"IN-SPACe shall function as an autonomous government organization, mandated to promote, hand-hold, guide and authorize space activities in the country. For this purpose, IN-SPACe shall periodically issue guidelines and procedures, that would, among other things, promote ease of doing business," the policy states.

In addition to private participants, IN-SPACe will collaborate with academia and national as well as global industry players to boost space developments in the country. The policy also defines that the center should "issue guidelines for meeting safety and security requirements for space objects."

The policy allows startups to "undertake end-to-end activities in space sector through establishment and operations of space objects, ground-based assets and related services, such as communication, remote sensing, navigation, etc" subject to the guidelines issued by IN-SPACe.

Separately, ISRO has defined its role to focus "primarily on research and development of new space technologies and applications, and for expanding the human understanding of outer space." The space agency will enable "free and open" data access from its remote sensing satellites of ground sample distance of 5 meters and higher to private and public participants in the space sector. Additionally, it will make archived satellite data and satellite derived thematic data from remote sensing satellites available on a "free and open" basis for research and development purposes.

The space agency will also transition from manufacturing operational space systems, and will collaborate and partner with national and global industry and academia to focus on R&D in space science, technology and applications, per the framework.

Alongside ISRO, the framework defines the responsibilities of NewSpace India Limited and the Department of Space.

NewSpace India Limited is tasked with commercializing space technologies and managing the production, leasing, and procurement of space assets from both private and public players. Meanwhile, the Department of Space will lead implementation of the space policy, and ensure that responsibilities are properly distributed among the different stakeholders.

Indian Space Association (ISpA) Director General Lt. Gen. AK Bhatt said the policy provided much-needed clarity on all space activities and would help create opportunities for private players.

"It also clearly defines the role of IN-SPACe, as a single-window agency for the authorization of Space activities by government entities as well as NGEs (non-government entities). With this policy clarity, we are confident that IN-SPACe and DoT will work speedily to ensure necessary clearances for private players in India," he added.

The association counts space tech startups including Mayfield-backed AgniKul and Singapore's SIG-invested Skyroot Aerospace as members, as well as private companies such as Bharti Airtel and OneWeb.

Private participants including startups in the country's space sector have also asked the government to introduce a foreign direct investment policy to help attract global investors. Details on that front are yet to be announced, though.

The new policy comes months after the government released its draft for consultations last year as a significant update to the initial set of rules released in 2017.

In the last few months, the Indian government has been working toward bolstering space activities in the country to make it an attractive market for customers around the globe.

Among other developments, the government's recent data shared in the parliament shows that as many as 388 foreign satellites were launched by ISRO's launch vehicles in the last eight years, including 37 until March. Microsoft also recently partnered with the space agency to work with local space tech startups.