Space, universe, solar system, planets have interested human beings since time immemorial. With every exploration, the desire and intent to know more about space grows, evolving it as a sector of research and development at a geo level and creating a footprint for the country in space exploration. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla the list is endless of inspirational space research scientists and astronauts of India and their life stories are inspiring students and engineers across the country to explore the domain of space and aeronautics. Indian films have showcased how we made history with the successful Mars mission. Breaking into the bulwark of space programs held by a handful of countries around the globe, ISRO started its ambitious and daring journey five decades ago with a record of over 100 successful space missions. ISRO today is amongst the top six government space agencies in the world. From launching small rockets of just 30-70 kg payloads to carrying 4,000 kg payloads to outer space, ISRO’s journey has been refreshingly audacious.
From relying on other countries for space programs to now having its own robust launch vehicle program, this momentous growth was harnessed by ISRO’s space research centers – Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Space Applications Centre and 14 more of such centers. To further enhance the field of space research, ISRO and its research centers have active programs with academic and research institutes across the country and are training personnel from numerous countries around the globe. As per industry sources, the space sector in India accounts for 3% in the rising $360-billion global space market. Over 500 plus Indian suppliers provide components and electronics to ISRO, and there are over 200 engineering colleges that teach aeronautical engineering.
Space- from government led to private initiatives
Historically the space missions were led at a country level. Since the first manned spaceflight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961 and Apollo 11- the spaceflight that first landed humans on the moon, space programs have always been under the strict purview of the respective governments. However, it all changed in 2012 when a teardrop-shaped capsule, packed with cargo and supplies, docked at the International Space Station. It was owned and operated by a private company. While space exploration today remains a key initiative at a country level and is part of the government agenda, however providing opportunities to private companies for space exploration and satellite launches has democratized the sector creating new opportunities for diversification of large enterprises and SMEs in the value chain. Innovative startups as in other sectors are also disrupting the sector with cost-effective space programs, new designs based on new components and materials, and a purpose to create new experiences for humans.
Space- the opportunity in India
In India, there is an inherent interest in the domain of space, defence, aeronautics and satellites. India produces the best brains that have been part of several space missions elsewhere in the world. Earlier this year, the government announced a policy to boost private participation in space activities, providing an opportunity for private companies in satellites, launches, and space-based services. Along with this, the new Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) was formed to assess the need and demand of private players, including educational and research institutions, and explore ways to accommodate these requirements in consultation with ISRO. This opens up new avenues for private players in not just space explorations but in satellites, sub-assemblies, electronic components, materials and other associated domains. Space and satellite are the backbone for predictions that help us in sectors like agriculture, weather, communications, military, defence, banking, monitoring, and surveillance and in several other domains.
With these announcements, India now stands on the cusp of building a space ecosystem with ISRO being the guiding body, large enterprise and conglomerates diversifying into the sector, pulling up the value chain- the SMEs to produce sub-assemblies. With startups and technology innovators, India can now evolve as a space startup hub for the world. Industry estimates there are over 40+ startups working in India with funding, teams and structure on space and satellite projects complementing the efforts of the government, ISRO, VSSC and others. This number is likely to increase, and this is where technology will play a big role.
Space- the role of technology in bridging V+R (virtual+real), simulation and program management
Nearly 65 years ago, satellites were invented which captured the world’s imagination and wonder in space. Today the fascination has only deepened with a new frontier of satellite technology where companies can now collectively extend the limit of rocketry and satellite innovation, making space more accessible. The race is on to run satellites into space more optimally and sustainably by bridging the real and virtual universes, speeding up innovation from rocketry to satellite design to manufacturing and operations so we can deploy first time right satellites into orbit. The challenge for new space companies is to develop the versatility of their platforms while manufacturing to order at scale. In the longer term, the challenge will be to manage mega-constellations and ensure their sustainability.
To win the space race with successful satellite launches, companies must close the gap between the real and virtual worlds. India has the required provisions, evolving infrastructure, and young talented minds to master this cusp of space technology and evolve into a global leader in the sector. We need to ensure that we enable the emerging companies with accurate know-how, profound knowledge, and expertise experience to close the gap between two worlds with unlocking new prospects with new stellar V+R technologies.
Indo-French collaboration will provide new avenues
Space cooperation and collaboration between France and India that began in the 1960s have profoundly marked the relationship between the two countries. In 2018, France and India concluded the joint vision for space cooperation. Its various aspects include the societal impact of space technologies, space surveillance and situation assessment, response to global challenges such as climate change, and development of technologies for human exploration of the universe. France and India have a longstanding and unparalleled partnership for peaceful uses of outer space, and as a French company doing business in India, we are committed to take this engagement forward and collaborate in space technology for national development.
To summarize, there are three key aspects of potential collaboration to increase the momentum and expand India’s share in the global space economy. The first is to establish new partnerships with the industry and entrepreneurs and we are happy to collaborate with ISRO and its subsidiaries on indigenous missions like re-launchable spacecrafts & human in space programs. We can bring in our expertise on bridging the real and virtual worlds, and enabling companies to extend the boundaries of rocketry and satellite innovation and make space more accessible. Secondly, we would like to bring in a business platform that helps them shorten rocketry and satellite development time to achieve first-time-right quality for successful launches. This business platform will enable integrating different departments and information while providing digital capabilities to accelerate design and manufacturing, including virtual validation. Lastly, to win the space race with successful satellite launches, companies must reduce the gap between the virtual and real world and bring in a framework to manage complex systems of systems through effective global collaboration with international space organizations, thus achieving innovation in program execution. This can accelerate the product life-cycle from concept to take-off and give a critical first-to-market advantage.
(Arun Rao is Senior Director – India, Sales & Strategy – Dassault Systèmes)