India’s Space Policy: The Economic Perspective Of Space Entrepreneurs In New India

“There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.” – Dr Vikram Sarabhai

India started spending in Space science and technologies in the 1960s, putting in place an administrative structure similar to that for Atomic Energy.[1] The difference is that the Atomic energy programs are regulated by an Act called 1948 Atomic Energy Act (revised in 1962), however, the country’s space activities are yet to be regulated by specific legislation. Traditionally, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has observed space technology applications mainly for advancing societal growth and development and not for addressing defence or security issues.

In the past few years, India has seen advancement and progress in space activities and a lot of attention is being provided to the sector as the Ministry of Defence has taken the space activities under its purview for achieving better defence mechanisms. A new range of civilian applications of space technologies, driven by start-ups, have also emerged in areas such as communication, TV and broadband, earth observation and navigation.[2] This brief calls for the formulation of a Space Law to build a transparent and enabling regulatory environment for the country’s expanding activities in the civilian domain.[3]

In 1957, the world’s first satellite ‘Sputnik’ by the Soviet Union was launched. This launch marked the beginnings of the new age. After this huge achievement, India started pondering upon developing the space sector to achieve the new heights of boundaries. Four years later, after the launch, a paper was presented to the government by Dr Vikram Sarabhai, founding Director of Physical Research Laboratory, defining the country’s budding space technologies and the way it could develop India’s space policy.

This led to the formation of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) to advise the government on space policy. By the end of 1963, the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station was set up and a US-supplied Nike Apache rocket was successfully launched into orbit carrying a French payload.[4] Finally, the day had arrived when India’s own Space Organisation i.e. the Indian Space Research Organisation was launched in 1969 under the administrative control of the Department of Space. This establishment led to the INCOSPAR’s incorporation within the space commission.

The framed model is akin to that used in atomic energy, but the differences are that there is an established Act/law for this area of sphere i.e. the Atomic Energy Act which was passed in 1948 and later was amended in 1962 to outline the function of government in the area of nuclear power. But there is no specific law for space activities, as of now. The Government is yet to legislate an act for space activities. ISRO, for that matter, is guided by a set of Mission and Vision statements.[5] that announce the use of space technology and its applications for societal needs and national development[6].

Although there is no specific legislation, as of now, for the space endeavors but India, as a country, has strengthened a lot since the inception of ISRO. There have been various accomplishments in this area including telecommunication, meteorology and space science, etc. Till now, various satellites have been launched, starting from Aryabhata in 1975 to RISAT- 2BR1 in 1029, due to the advanced development of launch vehicles and related technologies.


The mission of ISRO is not only to work on societal needs and objectives but also to work on nation-building programs including defence and security, as well. The first main mission that India worked upon was the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) in 1975-76 with the help of the US satellite for a year. The chief purpose of this mission was to provide education to more than 2000 villages by covering millions of people. It established the capacity of satellite technology by making it a successful mass communication tool. Since then, ISRO has logged numerous other accomplishments in developing space technology to answer the advanced needs of the country.

Post-Independence, India has grown at an immense rate and now is becoming a leading player in Asia and beyond. Developed as well as developing countries have their eyes open as to what now will be a big step for India with regards to a number of security-related technologies. The outer Space policy of India is under constant scrutiny by many international players. Over time, India’s outlook towards the outer space policy has been modified and determined towards national security issues. For the same, India has changed its dated traditional policy which was ethically driven and it also opposed any militarization of outer space and focussed on peaceful endeavours alone. With changing times, as countries like USA, China, Russia, etc. are driven by their security issues, India needs to walk on the same path for securing its national interest and safety.

Being a developing country, India has always been questioned about its policies in every sector, unsurprisingly, the space program was questioned too. Many have confronted that as a country, India should focus on rectifying basic developmental challenges before jumping into developing space programs. But India didn’t allow these challenges to affect the nation’s vision of achieving success in the space sector.

The space program of India has impacted immensely the country’s progress and development plan through its roster of satellites with utilities spread across agriculture, health, education, commerce, communication and disaster warning and mitigation. ISRO’s contribution to these sectors over the last five decades is remarkable.[7]


India grabbed an opportunity to step into the space industry with National Space India Limited (NSIL). It is believed that it would be the new ‘commercial arm’ in the space sector. The government has made the statement that “the NSIL will help boost commercialization of India’s space research”. This step taken by the government with the support of NSIL will put India in a great position on International space. There is a growing realization that national legislation is needed to ensure the overall growth of the space sector.[8]

Innovations and new start-ups have given an incredible kick to the development of the space industry, representing the big desires and plethora of talent in cutting-edge technologies. India is getting an immense amount of attention, mainly after the ‘Mangalyan’ mission, from many small start-ups like ‘Dhruv Space’ and ‘Aniara Space’ to make an advance development to revolutionize the space industry.

The biggest challenge for the private space companies is that they are restricted to supplying components and building engines and satellite launch vehicles for ISRO or developing telecom satellites for commercial purposes.[9] The private companies have a desire to help in developing the space sector by contributing at every level, but due to several restrictions with regards to the difficult and discouraging business environment in India, it is not possible for them to contribute the sector with their full capacity. By bringing private space companies into business, India could create significant job opportunities and bring export revenues as well.

For this to be a successful venture, Ram Jakhu, a professor and expert in space law said that a legislative framework that defines space activities for public and private entities would also encourage more public-private partnerships – key for space start-ups.

Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson introduced the world with the concept of a new dimension i.e. NewSpace. NewSpace is jargon describing the disruption caused by the commercialization of space ventures through reusable launchers and small satellites using COTS hardware which results in lowering of costs thus opening the field to many more players other than the government institutions and high net worth individuals.[10] However, downstream, there is much more to NewSpace in terms of innovative technology, commercial applications and capacity building. [11]

This revolution influenced India to work in a positive direction with a new vision and also encouraged the youth to achieve something big under the NewSpace agenda. The Chief Strategy Officer at SatSure Limited, Prateep Basu, a student of the Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology (IIST) was largely influenced by Dr Vikram Sarabhai. He joined ISRO for a small period of time until he realized that he wants to do something of his own and unique in the space industry, so he drifted towards becoming an entrepreneur. Similarly, many other young enthusiasts of space science came forward as entrepreneurs to develop the sector with their unique vision.

Divyanshu Poddar, Founder Rocketeers said, “Indian industry needs and wants more than ISRO and I saw entrepreneurship as the way to go”.

For India to become a world power, it needs better policies for defence and security to be safe and unhampered by its enemies. The space sector is one of the many ways to achieve the same. For the space sector to bloom, several changes must be done in marketing and business policies. A flexible and encouraging environment must be provided to new start-ups to work and enhance the standard of the space sector. Hence, the same can only be achieved when a well thought legislation will be framed and implemented in India.

[1] Rakesh Sood, “An Indian Space Law: Long Overdue”, ORF Issue Brief No. 309, August 2019, Observer Research Foundation.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4]  Rakesh Sood, “An Indian Space Law: Long Overdue”, ORF Issue Brief No. 309, August 2019, Observer Research Foundation.

[5]Vision and Mission Statements”, Department of Space, ISRO, Government of India.

[6] Rakesh Sood, “An Indian Space Law: Long Overdue”, ORF Issue Brief No. 309, August 2019, Observer Research Foundation.

[7] Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, “India’s Space Program: International Competition and Evolution”, December 2019, IFRI Centre for Asian Studies.


[9] Id.

[10] Arup Dasgupta, “NewSpace India entails opportunities, challenges and hopes”, April 2018, Geospatial World.

[11] Id.

This Article is Authored by Vartika Srivastava, Third Year B.A. LL.B. Student at Symbiosis Law School, Noida.

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