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Privatisation of Isro: Is it the right call?

  • Space exploration is indeed expensive. Nasa is a flourishing behemoth because it has robust engagement with the private sector.
  • Nasa last year opened up its part of the International Space Station to commercial players including private astronauts.
  • India has possibly taken its first big step in that direction with the central government setting up New Space India Limited (NSIL) earlier and now IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre).
  • Both flow from the announcements made by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the fourth tranche of Rs 21 lakh crore special Covid-19 economic package.
  • NSIL has come up as an assisting body to the Isro to facilitate private participation in its programmes.
  • IN-SPACe will work on the mechanism for Isro's engagement with industries and to meet demands of the private sector in space programmes.
  • The announcement of opening up of India's space sector to private players does not mean that Isro did not have partnerships with private companies earlier.
  • Its engagement with private players began nearly 50 years ago during the time of Professor Satish Dhawan.
  • Till now, the Isro's private engagement model has been the one of sharing technological know-how -- or, intellectual property -- with companies and having a monopoly over purchase of their products and services.
  • Isro continues to function as the core space organisation in India with decision-making authority related to activities, missions and projects.
  • It will focus more on Research and Development (R&D), exploring new technologies, and planning new space missions.
  • IN-SPACe will ensure a level playing field for private companies to use Indian space infrastructure and a friendly regulatory environment.
  • This opens up the possibility that private players can soon be building and launching satellites in a gradual manner. Some private players are already building small and micro satellites.
  • More engagement of private sector means more money for Isro to do its basic work of space research and exploration.

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