What is the Indian Space Association?
Indian Space Association (ISpA) has been formed as a privately handled industry body with the primary function of providing help and assistance for the advancement of space technology in India. The founding members of ISpA include Bharti Airtel, OneWeb, Walchandnagar Industries, Ananth Technology Limited, and Mapmyindia, among several other privately-owned companies.
ISpA shall aim to take part in and work alongside ISRO as well as others on issues about policies about domain and space technology. It will lay focus mainly on capacity building and developing incubators and space economic hubs in India. These features make the Indian Space Association a path-breaking organization in the field of space technology and also ensures greater progress concerning space and astronomical studies.
What Makes This Initiative Significant?
Along the lines of countries like the United States of America, now multiple private sector firms both domestic and global will take a keen interest in the Indian space domain, with a series of space-based and satellite communication networks coming to the forefront. Private players now have more incentive to strengthen India’s Space Program through investment and the involvement of these companies will surely translate into a greater amount of resources for the same.
Numerous Indian and international companies worldwide have bet their bottom dollar on the satellite communications system as the chief frontier to administer internet and web connectivity at the consumer or retail level. This includes Sunil Bharti Mittal’s OneWeb, SpaceX’s StarLink, US satellite maker Hughes Communications, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, etc. OneWeb, for instance, is in the process of building its first constellation consisting of 648 low-earth satellites. Out of those, it has already placed 322 satellites into orbit.
Its services are scheduled to commence in 2021, with its range stretching from the Arctic region including Alaska, Canada, to the UK. 2022 onwards, OneWeb will start offering its low latency, high-speed connectivity services all across India and the rest of the world. In addition to this, Amazon and StarLink are also in talks with the Indian government to obtain a license to sell and offer satellite-based internet connection services. SpaceX too has planned to design a brand new network of around 12,000 satellites of which approximately 1,300 are presently sky-borne.
The Significance of Satellite Internet
Industry experts have suggested that the technology of satellite internet will be an essential requirement for broadband inclusion in remote rural areas and sparsely populated localities wherein terrestrial networks have not yet marked their presence. However, as of now, satellite communications are restricted to be used only by corporates and some institutions that require its usage for emergency purposes, trans-continental communications that are critical, and lastly, for connecting to those remote areas which have no connectivity.
As of August 2021, India could record only 3 lakh customers of satellite communications. On the other hand, the numbers in the United States and European Union have gone up to 45 lakh and 21 lakh respectively. Some have also raised concerns over the probable overcrowding of the orbit space due to these collective launches. So far, private corporations have refrained from commenting on this.
The Launch - A Boon or a Bane?
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Indian Space Association (ISpA) on 11th October 2021, he described this industry as a body that aspires to be the voice of the nation's space sector. He also emphasized his governments’ firm commitment to the progressive reforms, stating that the country had never seen a more decisive and effective government. The Prime Minister also went on to say that the government can no longer continue to be an overseer in matters of the space sector rather, it must act as an active enabler.
Critics point out, that, this can be seen as a thrust towards the governments’ Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative which aims to make India self-reliant and reduce dependence on aid and export from foreign countries. Apart from projecting space as an important resource for the upliftment of the common man, this will also serve as an impetus for encouraging freedom of entrepreneurship and innovation in the realm of the private sector. Another important consequence of this would be that it might also translate into better imaging, mapping as well as improved connectivity facilities for the country’s common people.
Therefore, the central government and its agencies have repeatedly reiterated that the increasing involvement of the private sector will bring nothing but growth and advancement for the country and its citizens. Amidst these proclamations, there is a section that questions such types of initiatives on grounds of acute poverty, hunger,and other challenges that India still faces and the fact that the government should direct its limited time, energy, and resources towards the eradication of these pressing issues.
Ahead of some major anticipated launches that are all set to take shape next year, the Indian government has made its intentions clear and finally announced its plans to liberalize and invite private players in the space sector. It also wishes to have more private firms utilize the facilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for developing and launching satellites into orbit. While drafts of a new space policy have surfaced, these are yet to solidify into something concrete and only time will tell whether these policies have more merits or demerits to them.
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