Startups in Indian space sector need a legal and regulatory framework

BENGALURU: Several startups coming up in the Indian space sector are feeling hampered by the lack of a legal and regulatory framework that can help support and encourage new ventures. These companies, both early stage ventures and some established private companies that de -velop a range of solutions from frugally built spacecraft to custom-made solutions are looking for support that can help spur innovation and publicprivate partnerships, which can help reduce imports and support growing star rtup activity in the sector.

“Our traction will become exponentially large with a framework in place,” said Narayan Prasad,27, Director and chief technology officer of the country’s first private satellite developer Dhruva Space, and an active contributor to journals that discuss policy in the space sector. The two-year-old startup is in the process of developing a 12 kilogram, frugal satellite for AMSAT-INDIA, the Indian arm of the global grouping of amateur radio operators, and it may be launched into space in the first quarter of 2016.

All private ventures including India’s first private satellite maker Dhruva Space currently go through Isro for its customer demonstrations. For the last 50 years, the $1-billion-worth space industry in India has been dominated by Isro’s space programmes and missions. The latest was the satellite launch into Mars, that was applauded for its frugal innovation and for pinning India on the global space map, as the first ever nation in the world to do so successfully in its first attempt.

Industry members are of the view that a policy framework that allows for greater contribution from the private sector will help drive innovation in the sector.

“If an investor for example wants to invest, he needs to know what is the proper policy, where he is investing and what returns he will get back. So until and unless there is no proper law policy, investors will not invest,” said Balakista Reddy, Head, Centre for Air and Space Law, NALSAR University of Law, who has been pushing India’s case for clear, common and dictated space law policies for both sectors and has repeatedly sent letters to Isro, recommending a set of laws and their importance.

KS Radhakrishnan, who is the Chairman of Isro, declined comment for this story.

Companies like Bengaluru’s Aniara Space is among those looking for a legal framework that will make it easy to conduct business with local players. The technology services company, that offers satellite communications solutions to support the requirements of broadcasters, system integrators and even governments, recently signed a satellite procurement agreement with UK-based aerospace multinational Dauria Aerospace, to develop two small geostationary satellites.

“Direct approachability to the Department of Space (DoS) will make it easier for private players to appeal, and possibly grow,” said Prasad of Dhruva Space who said that every appeal or request goes through Isro, which operates under the DoS, which falls directly under the Prime Minister’s Office.

The DoS addresses the policies developed by The Space Commission through Isro to oversee maintenance of an active launch vehicle program, research and development in space science and other related fields. It also looks at outreach programmes to educational institutions and other such initiatives.

It has multiple bodies under its supervision such as the National Remote Sensing Agency(NRSA), the Physical Research Laboratory (PR L), National Mesosphere Stratosphere Troposhere Radar Facility(NMRF), and National Natural Resources Management Systems (NNRMS). Isro currently does not have a legal arm. “The first thing that should be done is for a legal arm to be formed,” said Reddy of NALSAR University of Law. “Now that private companies are talking with international space organisations, a comprehensive set of laws is essential for both government and private bodies,” said Sridhara Murthi, a former MD, Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of Isro, that also falls under the DoS.

Nalsar’s Reddy said that a proposed legal framework must also address questions of insurance and liability, the procedure for the adoption and implementation of space programmes, intellectual property rights protection, regulations on the safety of satellite launch and space flight, apart from formally incorporating the objectives of the country’s space policy.

Experts say that the international space law does not offer a direct and acute detailing of the policies of activities in space, and hence the requirement of a domestic legal framework is required.

” Now is the time when the private sector is stirring while the public sector has proved it’s efforts.

Indian Space Legislation is the need of the hour,” said Reddy.