Space Activities Bill 2017 – Commercializing Indian Space Sector

India has successfully demonstrated its space prowess for a while now. However, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has monopolized this sector for a very long time. For India to become a global space power, it is essential to bring in the private players on board for a higher success rate.

Currently, the new start-ups are emerging in the space sector for undertaking ambitious projects like launching palm-sized satellites and propulsion of satellites using cleaner fuels. With the promise of high returns of the investment in this sector, there is an increased inflow of investments into these start-ups.

For the success of these new companies, it is essential for the Indian Government to provide a law that assures ease of doing business and faster promotion of these aspiring projects. The Space Activities Bill, 2017 is a major leap forward in this direction.

What is Space Activities Bill, 2017?

  • It is a proposed pre-legislative bill that seeks to promote and regulate the space activities of India and also to encourage and regulate the domestic private space and satellite companies to provide services to both the Indian and Global costumers.
  • This new bill seeks to encourage start-ups in the space sector by providing them with guidance and authorization from the Government through the Department of Space.
  • The draft of the bill was posted in the Indian Space Research Organisation’s website on November 2017 to seek the public opinions and ideas.

What are the salient features of the bill?

  • Its provisions shall apply to all the Indian Citizens and sectors that may engage in space sector within or outside India.
  • The government will maintain an official record of all the space objects (any object launched or intended to be launched around the earth) and create a blueprint for more future space activities of the country.
  • The Central Government will be in charge of creating a mechanism to provide licences, eligibility criteria and the fees for the licence.
  • The non-transferable licences will be provided by the Central Government to any Indian citizen undertaking Space activity.
  • Technical and professional support will be provided to the commercial space activity by the Central Government.
  • These activities will be regulated by the government to ensure the safety and supervision of the procedures and conduct of the space activities of the nation.
  • Any incidents/accidents that may arise in connection with the space activities will be investigated under this bill.
  • The bill will share details on the pricing of the products created through space activity and technology with any individual or agency as per the terms and conditions.
  • If any individual indulges in any commercial space activity without the authorization, then he/she will be punished with imprisonment up to 3 years or be fined more than Rs.1crore or both.
  • It also has provisions for the protection of IPR created through space activity.

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Why do we need this law?

Despite the increasing success of the ISRO for the past five decades since its establishments, the future looks complicated for the Indian space growth.

  • This is because the ISRO is currently facing a critical situation in bearing the full burden of capacity building, space research, and technological development in this field.
  • For decades since the establishment, ISRO had to justify the spending of the limited precious resources on space when the Indian economy was facing a crisis.
  • Therefore ISRO was always involved in developmental projects like launching communications satellite, weather forecasting, and remote sensing technologies.
  • Since then, ISRO has become one of the cost-effective Space agencies in the world.
  • However, to improve ISRO’s performance in the space sector, it should be much more proactive in seeking new deals in the foreign market.

Currently, India’s importance in international politics is increasing exponentially. Therefore, India must make use of this scenario to increase the consumer base to bring in the much-needed revenue for the Department of Space.

Also, ISRO has to increase its number of space missions per year to remain competitive in the global market.

There is also an urgent need to increase the launch infrastructure like launch pads and satellite manufacturing capabilities to improve ISRO’s performance.

For all this to happen, partnering up with the private space agencies is the need of the hour.

  • It is a practical and ready solution to help ISRO solve the capacity crisis.
  • If this bill is made into law, the private space enterprises will be able to bear some of the burdens of the global demands and bolster India’s economic position in the global arena.
  • It will also help ISRO pass on the common commercial launch activities to the private players and focus on far ambitious missions like Gaganyaan.
  • Also, investors predict that there may be high returns in this sector.

The Outer Space treaty prohibits the sovereign nations from exploiting the space resources and the colonisation in space. It considers celestial objects as “common heritage of mankind”.

  • However, under the Obama Administration, a law was signed that allowed the private firms of the US to own asteroids and mine resources out of it.
  • This shows that the US has overcome the international laws that forbid the exploitation of space resources.
  • India, through this bill, seeks to do the same.

If this bill is made into law, the Indian government can encourage private players to invest in this sector. This bill will enable India to become a commercial hub for space activities and also generate new jobs.

 What are the arguments against the bill?

  • Too much regulation: The private space agencies are under the constant watch by the central government. All the activities, research, technological development, etc., are being watched by the government. This may scare away the investors.
  • Clarity on the term “space objects”: The bill does not provide clarity on the term “space objects”. It is broad and ambiguous.

What is the current status of investments in private space operations?

  • Currently, there is an increase in private space investments in India.
  • Bellatrix Aerospace, a Bengaluru-based research, and development company is currently working on launching satellites using electric and non-toxic chemical thrusters. This company was able to raise an investment of USD 3 million from a group of investors.
  • Kawa Space, Mumbai based company that designs and operates earth observation satellites has also been funded by many investors.
  • These above-mentioned companies are two among the dozen start-ups that are involved in space activities like developing satellites, rockets, etc., in India.
  • The boom of investments in these start-up companies shows the growing importance of these firms in the space sector.

Way Forward

  • For India to remain competitive in the space sector, it is essential to pass the well thought out law that provides ease of doing business in the space sector.
  • Also, space is becoming a new domain of warfare. Currently, the US and France are developing their own space military forces = India must safeguard its strategic interests in the space to prevent any future threat that may arise in this domain.
  • For this to happen, the government must spread out space developmental activities to the private players to ensure a higher and faster probability of success.
  • Therefore, this bill, if made into law will promote India stature in global politics.

Article by: K.G.Karishma

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