The successful launch of the six-meter tall, deep blue and white Vikram-S rocket in November 2022 was a milestone for the space sector in India. It was the first launch of a spacecraft entirely designed and built by the private sector. The 545 kg rocket carrying three customer payloads was launched at ISRO’s launch site at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh.
The start-up Skyroot that launched Vikram-S, named after Vikram Sarabhai, is a start up in Hyderabad. It used 3D printing technology to build its thrusters and carbon fiber to build its motor casing – all cutting-edge technology. Powered by a Kalam 80 engine, after launch the rocket soared to a distance of 89.5km from Earth within minutes.
The public sector ISRO ensured India a place as a space exploring nation, making it self-reliant in space technology and built up a reputation for low-cost space research. However, revenues from the space economy were about $10 billion, only about 2% of the global $440 billion. Private sector participation in the space sector was only as suppliers to ISRO.
In 2020, the government opened up the space sector in India for private companies allowing them to build rockets and satellites as part of the ‘Prarambh’ mission. Private companies could not only build rockets and satellites, but launch them also. As part of the new policy ISRO is to allow use of its facilities by private companies. To regulate and coordinate the private sector launches and other space activities the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) has been set up.
The launch of Vikram -S, has opened the doors for a new era in space activities in the country. The applicants that want to enter this sector are growing – about 68 firms want to make payloads, 30 want to make rockets and their components and 57 want to make ground stations or use space derived data in various activities
The start-up sector is brimming in the space arena. Nearly 101 start-ups in the space sector have registered since 2020. And interest is also from overseas with some of the world’s largest companies looking to take advantage of India’s expertise in software and data analysis, coupled with low costs. To compete globally the Indian players would need to be cost effective and build reusable rockets. The exciting developments in the space arena is a whole new chapter opening for the young people of the country.
Since Vikram-S, ISRO has launched 8 nano satellites built by the private sector in India and abroad at the end of last of month. According to data there are around 4,550 man-made satellites in Earth’s orbit. At least 50,000 satellites are expected to be launched in the next 10 years. The orbit and space above Earth are gradually going to become a crowded highway. There are concerns about the carbon footprint of space vehicles in the stratosphere. Space has traditionally been the domain of sovereign nations; now there would be a need to relook at the terms of engagement with the arrival of non-sovereign players in space exploration and tourism.
Published in Hindi in the Dainik Bhaskar on 6-12-2022 and in Indian Eye in issue dated January 20,2023