In the backdrop of World Space Week, observed every year in October, India woke up to some bittersweet news. Last week, the country’s Mars Orbiter craft ran out of propellant and drained its battery beyond the safe limit. This fuelled speculations on whether the nation’s maiden interplanetary mission Mangalyaan might have finally concluded its long innings. The Rs 450 crore Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) was launched aboard the PSLV-C25 almost a decade ago in November 2013, and successfully inserted into Martian orbit a year later in Sept 2014, in its very first attempt.
The success was a demonstration of India’s growing prowess in the field of space research and exploration. MOM has been lauded for demonstrating traits of cost-effectiveness, short period of realisation, and miniaturisation of payloads. India is pinning major hopes on its space sector as a recent report said our space economy is expected to be worth nearly $13 bn by 2025. Currently, the value of India’s space tech economy is pegged at around $9.6 bn as per 2020 figures.
The driver of this growth will be the satellite launch services segment, which will witness the most rapid uptake, thanks to increased private participation. The satellite services and application sector is eyeing a turnover of $4.6 bn by 2025, apart from the ground segment which is targeting $4 bn, satellite manufacturing at $3.2 bn and launch services at $ 1 bn. The report, released by the Indian Space Association and E&Y said the burgeoning demand for smaller satellites is slated to boost the infrastructure for manufacturing satellites in India. It will also attract global start-ups who can help incubate space tech companies in India.
The projections are telling as ISRO had recently announced it is prepping up its rocket GSLV Mk-III to launch as many as 36 satellites of OneWeb later this month. The commercial arm of ISRO, NewSpace India Ltd has signed two contracts with OneWeb’s parent company to launch its broadband communication satellites in low Earth orbit (LEO). The mission will herald many firsts for the Indian space sector. It is the first commercial launch of the GSLV Mk-III and the first time OneWeb is using an Indian spacecraft to put its satellites in LEO.
One must also consider the strides being made in the global arena. In 2021, China, which is 15 years ahead of us in space tech, launched the first module of its space station Tiangong which is being constructed in LEO, followed by the launch of the second module in July this year, and the third module which is set to be launched later this month. Its ambitions are also set on landing a manned mission on the Moon by 2030, following closely on the trail of the US which has planned such missions beginning 2025.
India’s space expenditure improved marginally three years ago to touch $1.8 bn as compared to $1.5 bn in 2018. However, we have lots to catch up on, as the US spends ten times ($19.5 bn) as much as India, while Russia spends four times as much and China spends about six times as much ($11 bn). The Satellite Industry Association report from 2020 says the value of the global space economy is pegged at $366 bn, of which India’s share is just about 2%. If India plans on making any kind of dent, not just in this industry, but even in a geopolitical context, with regard to strategic and national security concerns, then it will require a synergy of public private partnership on a massive scale in the space industry.