July 12, 2024

General Studies Paper 3

Context: The Space Age began in 1957 with the launch of satellite Sputnik 1, and in 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the world’s first person in space.

  • Neil Armstrong made history by walking on the moon in 1969.

Second Space Age:

  • There is no precise date for its beginning, the contrast in today’s space domain is stark.
  • The origins of the Second Space Age can be traced to the Internet.
  • In India, the process began accelerating as the 1990s saw the emergence of private TV channels, together with cable TV followed by direct-to-home transmissions.
  • The demand for satellite transponders and ground-based services exploded.
  • Majority actors in space are private companies.
  • Last year, there were 180 rocket/space launches:
  • 61by SpaceX
  • 90% of global space launches since 2020are by and for the private sector.

Background of space technology development:

  • Between the 1950s to 1991, a period dominated by the Cold War
    • 60 to 120 space launches took place annually
    • 93% of these were by the United States and the erstwhile USSR

India’s space journey:

  • India made an entry into the First Space Age in the 1960s.
  • The first sounding rocket, a U.S. supplied Nike-Apache, was launched at Thumba (Kerala) in 1963.
  • In 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was set up.
  • ISRO’s first major project was Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) that involved leasing a  satellitein 1975-76 for educational outreach across 2,400 villages covering five million people.
  • Satellite technology was a new mass communication tool.
    • This led to the INSAT series in the 1980s, followed by GSAT
    • It provided the backbone for the country’s tele-communication and broadcasting infrastructure.
  • Remote sensing capability development: The use of space-based imagery for:
  • weather forecasting
    • resource mapping of forests
    • analyzing agricultural yields
    • groundwater and watersheds,
    • fisheries
    • urban management.
  • Oceansat and Cartosat series: The field of satellite-aided navigation emerged later
    • It began with GAGAN, a joint project between ISRO and the Airports Authority of India
      • to augment Global Positioning System (GPS) coverage of the region
      • improve air traffic management over Indian airspace.
      • Expanded to a regional navigation satellite system called Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).
    • Development of satellite launch capabilities: Beginning with the SLV-1 in the 1980s
    • ISRO developed the PSLV series that has become its workhorse with over 50 successful launches.

Space potential:

  • The last 15 years witnessed another transformation
    • India was in lockstep with the developed world.
  • The age of mobile telephony, followed by smartphones shows how data-rich society India is.
  • Broadband, OTT and now 5G promise a double-digit annual growth in demand for satellite-based services.
  • In 2020,the global space economy was estimated at $450 billion, growing to $600 billion by 2025.
  • The Indian space economy,estimated at $6 billion in 2020, is expected to be $13 billion by 2025.
  • The Indian space industry could easily exceed $60 billion by 2030,directly creating more than two lakh jobs.
  • End-user revenue, only a fifth is generated by the government.
  • Media and entertainment account for 26% of India’s space economy
  • Consumer and retail services account for another 21%.
  • In terms of space activities,
    • downstream activities such as satellite services and associated ground segment are dominant
      • Accounting for over 70% of India’s space economy
    • Upstream activities of satellite manufacturing and launch services contribute the smaller share.
    • India has been an early adopter of digital app-based services.
  • Role of Private sector:
  • According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA): There are 8,261 satellites in orbit, of which nearly 5,000 are active.
  • Till 2010, about 60 to 100 satellites were launched annually.
    • In 2020, 1,283 satellites were launched.
  • Starlink operates a constellation of over 3,500 satellites and has a million paying customers.
  • Starlink and OneWeb (in which Airtel has a stake) project constellations of 40,000 satellites each.
  • Amazonhas launched Project Kuiper to bring low-latency broadband connectivity around the globe.

Indian Private Sector:

  • The Indian private sector is responding to the demands of the Second Space Age.
  • From $3 million in 2018, it doubled in 2019and crossed $65 million in 2021.

Role of ISRO:

  • ISRO manages four to five launches annually.
  • It manages 53 operational satellites– 21 for communication, 21 for earth observation, eight for navigation and the remaining as scientific experimental satellites (China operates 541).
  • ISRO has missions such as Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan and Gaganyaan (manned space mission).
  • ISRO has always been an open organization that has worked closely with the Indian private sector.
  • Start-ups:Their revenue stream depends on space-related activities and they need a different relationship with ISRO and government.
  • ISRO today is the operator,user, service provider, licensor, rule maker and also an incubator.

Way Forward

  • ISRO has steered India through the First Space Age and needs to do what it can do best now within its resources and its high-quality manpower — research.
  • commercializing the PSLV and SSLV launch services and New Space India Limited (NSIL) was set up to replace Antrix.
  • The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) was set up in 2020 as a single-window-clearance for the private sector.
    • However, it is unclear whether it will emerge as the licensing authority or a regulator.
    • An Indian Space Association (ISpA) was created as an industry association.
  • Need of legislation (a space activities act): This provides the legal grounding that policy papers lack.
    • It helps set up a regulatory authority and create an enabling environment for raising venture capital funding into the Indian space start-up industry.
  • The window of opportunity for India to join the Second Space Age exists and it should not be lost.
  • The country’s private sector has the talent and experience to shorten that distance if India creates the enabling policy environment.


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