ISRO and UN SDGs – A Short Critique

Let’s look at some numbers around ISRO’s popular Tele‐education, Tele‐medicine, Village Resource Centre and Disaster Management System Programmes. Do go through this post for a table that maps the major national projects/initiatives of ISRO to UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The multitude of initiatives and programmes that ISRO has undertaken towards social development are commendable given the meager budget for the Indian Space program of about $1.4 B for the year 2017-2018 which accounts for less than 0.06% of the country’s GDP.

The biggest benefactors of ISRO’s various socio-economic programmes will be the rural and remote populace who cannot otherwise have access to these facilities. This has been achieved through their Village Resource Centres (VRCs) with assistance from NGOs/, Trusts and state & central agencies for taking telemedicine, Tele-education, Panchayat Planning, Vocational Training, Weather Information, Marketing information, Drinking water facilities, Watershed development to the rural populations. The 461 VRC nodes set up in 22 States/Union Territories include 81 Expert Centres. 6500 programmes have been conducted addressing areas such as Agriculture/horticulture development, Fisheries development, Livestock development, Water resources, Telehealthcare, Awareness programmes, Woman’s empowerment, Supplementary education, Computer literacy, Microcredit, Microfinance, Skill development/vocational training for livelihood support and were used by over 500,000 people so far.

As per the press notes released by the Planning Commission of India in 2013, there are about 269.3 million poor people in the country according to the survey it conducted during 2011-2012 of which 216.5 million are from the rural and 52.8 million from urban areas. Assuming that the 500,000 users of the Village Resource Centers of ISRO belonged to the poor sections, only 0.23% of the urban poor had ever accessed the space-based services. Moreover, there are no clear metrics on what percentage of this 500,000 users have continued using the space-based tools and services for upgrading their lives. Similarly, the telemedicine network of ISRO covers about 384 hospitals with 60 specialty hospitals connected to 306 remote/rural/district/medical college hospitals and 18 Mobile Telemedicine units. As per the Open Government Data (OGD) Platform of India metrics of 2013, there are 35,416 government hospitals in the country, of which 26,604 are in rural and 8812 in urban areas. Again, the penetration is less than 1.5%. More importantly, given mobile coverage slowly reaching the rural and remote locations, these tele-education and telemedicine initiatives require better infrastructure in the form of large projection screens and monitors than simple connectivity, given the global trend of moving towards knowledge economies.

Major Limitations

The biggest limitation to the otherwise successful and meticulously planned space application programmes of ISRO is the inability to reach out to the majority of the population that actually needs these services and benefits. Though the drafting of these programmes, some of which had begun six decades ago, has been exceptionally visionary in anticipating the benefits of space technology, the existing implementation methods of operating primarily under the control of the Department of Space, are preventing them from scaling to the entire population.

The shortcomings of the ISRO originated implementation method can be especially sensed in the area of Earth Observation. Though acquisition and basic processing of satellite data is more or less automated, deduction of meaningful information from parsing satellite imagery for understanding climate and weather, monitoring natural resources, planning of developmental activities and assistance towards good governance requires intensive analytics. Performing data analytics and image analytics is a highly customized exercise and is manpower intensive for developing the task-specific algorithms. For instance, the two ISRO applications of identifying heritage sites and urban planning can be accomplished using the same high-resolution satellite imagery. However, the analytics algorithms developed for one project cannot be used for the other.

In spite of participation from several local administrative bodies, NGOs and trusts, the methods of engagement and service dissemination have been largely traditional. For instance, the tele-education program does not take into account the extensive repository of free online education material in the form of videos, lectures, exercises and even complete courses from primary to university level education. Instead, the components of the existing tele-education network connecting 59,700 schools (of the 15,16,865 schools and 38,498 colleges in the country) are receive-only and interactive classroom terminals with content such as lectures, training, lab sessions, databases being generated mostly within the network, though have a thoughtful feature of catering to users with special requirements. Similarly, the telemedicine initiatives also do not provide access to globally available resources but are restricted to their limited network. Therefore the second limitation of these space application base social programmes is the lack of integration with modern day technology and resources. OECD, 2012, OECD Handbook on Measuring the Space Economy, Paris, DOI: 10.1787/9789264169166-en

Possible Solutions

Solving the first limitation of scale and increasing the penetration of space technology tools can be achieved through recruiting more dedicated personnel to achieve wider penetration of the space technology services. However, this results in a large financial burden on the exchequer. An optimal solution is when the same mass penetration can be achieved through a commercial player ecosystem that reaps benefits while taking these space technology tools to the remotest populations. Inviting participation from startups in the fields of education, healthcare, social entrepreneurship ventures would give the required innovation momentum to the utilization of space technology tools in sustainable development and also solve the second problem of outdated content and implementation methodologies. However, in order for these efforts to make a convincing business case for these space applications disseminating companies, the space technologies, and services themselves should be available at an affordable cost. This, in turn, can be achieved by a thriving SME eco-system on both the upstream as well as downstream space sectors that would integrate space-based products/services into traditional industries such as energy, agriculture, retail, transport, internet/connectivity, etc. This dynamic integration precisely forms one of the strong pillars of NewSpace companies.

Moreover, NewSpace companies are planning to pick up the buck where traditional space companies have flattened in technology and growth. For example, there is a whole new ecosystem of Earth Observation (EO) downstream applications ventures that want to go beyond traditional Geospatial Information Systems (GIS) but using satellite data with ground-based sensors in creating data stacks that can add specific industry and decision intelligence to an array of industries.

A thriving newspace ecosystem would by itself cater to supplying the necessary space technology tools and services for sustainable development in the areas of climate change, disaster management, urban planning, resources monitoring, natural resource conservation while indirectly aiding large-scale dissemination of space technology-based tools and services in the areas of education, healthcare, poverty eradication, economic growth, sustainable practices.

Mapping ISRO’s Projects to UN Sustainable Development Goals

For a background on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the role of space technology in their achievement, refer this article.

The Indian Space Program had always focused on missions that would directly impact the common man. Currently, ISRO’s (Indian Space Research Organisation) Satellite Communication supports initiatives such as Tele‐education, Tele‐medicine, Village Resource Centre and Disaster Management System Programmes. The Indian Remote Sensing program provides key information to the government for ensuring food security, environment sustenance, natural resource management, disaster management among others. Additionally, it developed indigenous systems for ground-based monitoring measurement of weather parameters, such as Automatic Weather Station, Agro Metrological (AGROMET), Flux Tower, Doppler Weather Rada, GPS Sonde and Boundary Layer LIDAR.

The following table maps the major national projects/initiatives of ISRO to UN SDGs.

UN SDG ISRO Programme Space Technology Used Benefits
#1: End poverty in all its forms everywhere Village Resource Centre (VRC) Satellite communication, imagery, positioning, meterological data 461 VRCs set up in 22 States/Union Territories and over 6500 programmes conducted addressing areas of Agriculture/horticulture development; Fisheries development; Live stock development; Water resources; Tele health care; Awareness programmes; Woman’s empowerment; Supplementary education; Computer literacy; Micro credit; Micro finance; Skill development / vocational training for livelihood support etc.
#2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture  

Agro Metrological (AGROMET)

 

ground based sensors with satellite meteorological data

 

Towers to measure soil temperature, soil moisture, soil heat and net radiation, wind speed, wind direction, pressure and humidity

Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) High resolution satellite imagery Ground reality is captured. Time stamping of Irrigation Infrastructure. Identification of critical gaps. Prioritisation of works. Compliance monitoring. Effective project implementation. Irrigation Potential Creation assessment
Coordinated programme on Horticulture Assessment & Management using geoinformatics (CHAMAN) medium resolution widefield multi-spectral and high resolution satellite imagery Horticultural policy decision on crop monitoring, domestic needs, pricing, processing, import/export, planning cold storage & agro-processing units. Planning for expansion and development. Support for crop insurance schemes. Crop intensification and diversification
#3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages Tele-Medicine satellite communication, VSAT terminals  

Improved connectivity in remote and rural areas for healthcare services with access to Super-Specialist hospitals. Significant cost savings. Timely advice to save lives·Continuing Medical Education (CME) for Doctors, Medical Students and training to rural healthcare providers. Support to disaster relief

#4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all Tele-Education satellite communication, VSAT terminals Supplementing curriculum-based teaching. Effective teachers’ training. Access to quality resource persons and education. Taking education to every nook and corner of the country. About 15 million students get benefitted every year
#5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls Village Resource Centre (VRC) Satellite communication, imagery, positioning, meterological data 461 VRCs set up in 22 States/Union Territories and over 6500 programmes conducted addressing areas of Agriculture/horticulture development; Fisheries development; Live stock development; Water resources; Tele health care; Awareness programmes; Woman’s empowerment; Supplementary education; Computer literacy; Micro credit; Micro finance; Skill development / vocational training for livelihood support etc.
#6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all Integrated Watershed Management Project (IWMP High spatial and temporal resolution satellite imagery   Uniform evaluation of watershed development programme across the country using ortho-rectified highresolution satellite image database. Open source mapper tools for creation of future action plans using legacy/ multi-thematic layers. Prioritisation of target areas at national level and modeling of processes
Agro Metrological (AGROMET) ground based sensors with satellite meteorological data Towers to measure soil temperature, soil moisture, soil heat and net radiation, wind speed, wind direction, pressure and humidity
#7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all Smart Cities  high resolution and medium resolution multispectral satellite imagery  Existing Land use and infrastructure, Planning of City, Geospatial Governance for city good governance and civic services, Monitoring and enforcement, Real time city data analytics  
#8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all PFZ (Potential Fishing Zones) – Finding Fishes From Space coarse resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery, satellite positioning   

Direct benefit to society. Reduced search time, fuel cost and efforts. Increase in profi. Improved socio-economic status of fishermen community. 67% success rate in PFZ. Increase in Benefit-cost ratio (Non-PFZ to PFZ) – 1.27 to 2.12 for trawling & 1.3 to 2.14 for gillnetting 

#9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation  

Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) and GAGAN (GPS Aided and GEO Augmented Navigation)

satellite communication, satellite positioning  Indigenous positioning service over the Indian Sub-continent 
 #10: Reduce inequality within and among countries GSAT-9 South Asia Satellite (Refer page 6) satellite communication   support communication, broadcasting and Internet services, disaster management, tele-medicine, tele-education, weather forecasting for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, The Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka 
 #11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable Space Based Information Support for Decentralized Planning High resolution multispectral satellite imagery Single Window interface for Decentralised Planning process at all three levels. Accessibility of portal to common citizen for effective participation in planning process. Accessibility of Climate data at Panchayat level. Automatic Report Generation covering various socio-economic, demographic, natural, climate and infrastructure information. Effective for decision making at Panchayat level under e-Governance 
Satcom based Disaster Management Support  satellite communication, VSAT terminals  Low-cost terminal to support search & rescue operations for fishermen; Providing meteorological sensor data collection for weather prediction; In-situ data collection and reporting for calibration and validation of sensors
Distress Alert & Early Warning satellite communication, VSAT terminals, satellite positioning  
Conservation of heritage sites high resolution satellite imagery Inventory of world heritage sites and nationally important monuments in the country and generation of Geo-spatial database using high resolution satellite data; Predictive Locational Modeling for siting prospective archaeological locations 
Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)
high resolution and medium resolution multispectral satellite imagery  GIS Based Master Plan, Water Supply Systems, Sewerage, Septage, Storm Water Drainage, Urban Transport, Green Space and Parks, Reforms management & support, Capacity Building  
Smart Cities 
high resolution and medium resolution multispectral satellite imagery Existing Land use and infrastructure, Planning of City, Geospatial Governance for city good governance and civic services, Monitoring and enforcement, Real time city data analytics
#12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP)
High resolution satellite imagery Ground reality is captured. Time stamping of Irrigation Infrastructure. Identification of critical gaps. Prioritisation of works. Compliance monitoring. Effective project implementation. Irrigation Potential Creation assessment
#13: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts Climate change Research In Terrestrial environment (PRACRITI) coarse and medium resolution multispectral satellite imagery Modeling Eco-hydrology of India and Impact of Climate Change; Alpine ecosystem dynamics and impact of climate change in Indian Himalaya; Bio-physical Characterization and Site Suitability Analysis for Indian Mangroves; Impact of Global Changes on Marine Ecosystems with special emphasis on Coral Reefs; Investigations of Indian monsoon teleconnection with the polar environment processes
Automatic Weather Station (AWS) satellite meteorological sensors to providing hourly information on critical weather parameters such as pressure, temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind and radiation from remote and inaccessible areas
Space Based Information Support for Decentralized Planning High resolution multispectral satellite imagery Single Window interface for Decentralised Planning process at all three levels. Accessibility of portal to common citizen for effective participation in planning process. Accessibility of Climate data at Panchayat level. Automatic Report Generation covering various socio-economic, demographic, natural, climate and infrastructure information. Effective for decision making at Panchayat level under e-Governance
#14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources PFZ (Potential Fishing Zones) – Finding Fishes From Space coarse resolution multi-spectral satellite imagery, satellite positioning   Direct benefit to society. Reduced search time, fuel cost and efforts. Increase in profi. Improved socio-economic status of fishermen community. 67% success rate in PFZ. Increase in Benefit-cost ratio (Non-PFZ to PFZ) – 1.27 to 2.12 for trawling & 1.3 to 2.14 for gillnetting
#15: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss Integrated Watershed Management Project (IWMP High spatial and temporal resolution satellite imagery Uniform evaluation of watershed development programme across the country using ortho-rectified highresolution satellite image database. Open source mapper tools for creation of future action plans using legacy/ multi-thematic layers. Prioritisation of target areas at national level and modeling of processes
#16: Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies Space Based Information Support for Decentralized Planning High resolution multispectral satellite imagery Single Window interface for Decentralised Planning process at all three levels. Accessibility of portal to common citizen for effective participation in planning process. Accessibility of Climate data at Panchayat level. Automatic Report Generation covering various socio-economic, demographic, natural, climate and infrastructure information. Effective for decision making at Panchayat level under e-Governance
#17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development GSAT-9 South Asia Satellite (Refer page 6) satellite communication support communication, broadcasting and Internet services, disaster management, tele-medicine, tele-education, weather forecasting for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, The Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka

It is evident that ISRO’s national programmes are all designed to aid the government in achieving the development goals by 2030. However, the complete potential of ISRO’s technological prowess and dedication are yet to be unleashed. There is much that can be done in the design as well as implementation of these impressive national missions. My next articles will attempt a critical analysis on the ISRO approach to UN SDGs and suggest possible and feasible solutions suitable for the current Indian space scene.

UN Sustainable Development Goals – Role of Space Technology

Introduction – United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

In September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations have adopted a set of 17 goals each comprising specific targets to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. They are referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the member states are expected to formulate their national policies towards achieving these goals over the next 15 years. Also, a global indicator framework for the SDGs was announced in March 2017 1 . The UN SDGs were based on the earlier set of goals known as Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the UN in 2000 and expired in 2015.

While the MDGs also addressed poverty & hunger, universal education, combating diseases, child mortality, maternal health, gender equality, environmental sustainability, global partnerships, the SDGs appear to be superior to their predecessors on several fronts. Given the involvement of middle and low income countries in the international negotiations during their formulation, the SDGs are more universal applying to all countries. Through initiatives such as UN Global Compact and Impact2030, the private sector can greatly contribute towards global development. The SDGs can be a powerful tool for the United Nations in spreading awareness on poverty, inequality, sustainability, discrimination and think as global citizens. Moreover, the indicator framework has the potential to create opportunities to engage and participate in governance at local levels.

The 17 global development goals and their 169 targets are more or less interdependent and can only be pursued together with improvement in one area depending largely on progress in several other areas. For instance, poverty cannot be eradicated without significant progress in the fields of education, health care and reduction of inequalities. Climate change can only be combated via conservation and sustainable use of oceans, land, clean energy and responsible consumption and production techniques.

The wide agenda of the SDGs requires participation from all global actors who need to formulate appropriate policies at their national levels while also engaging their population at local and regional levels. Formulation of policies, implementation of necessary actions and assessment of progress in this global endeavour requires historical and accurate real-time data as well as infrastructure which space technology tools such as satellite imagery, satellite communication, satellite navigation and positioning, satellite based weather data can uniquely provide.

Role of Space Technology

The majority of the developing and underdeveloped countries, which have the greatest need for sustainable development, have large populations. This places a great complexity in both formulation and implementation of national policies towards sustainable development. The making of policies would require the most accurate information on the existing state of affairs, such as levels of poverty, land use, local climate, etc. Effective implementation would require real-time statistics on the measures taken. However, most important towards realisation of the UN SDGs is empowering the unaware and underprivileged population with access to all such information, at a personal as well as the community level. They should have access to the benefits being provided to them, the policies being chalked out and the metrics on the aid being offered.

Education and awareness are the most important tools of empowerment, in addition to providing access to information. Education, awareness, access – all require being connected to the rest of the world and amongst themselves. This global connectivity in turns requires vast infrastructure which space technology can offer most effectively – in terms of both cost and ease of establishment.

Earth observation satellite constellations have the potential to provide real-time images of the globe. Sub-meter and high spatial resolution imagery can help in urban planning, monitoring of urban land abuse, detection and tracking. Medium resolution imagery can aid in agricultural land mapping, land use, monitoring of lakes & water bodies. Coarse resolution images help in climate monitoring, disaster management and mitigation.

The satellite communications sectors with the VSAT terminals can take broadband access and thereby connectivity to the remotest locations. High Throughput Satellites now have upwards of 200 Gbps throughput. This can also greatly aid in providing education to even the remote locations and help in medical supervision by expert doctors wherever there is a shortage of specialists.

The applications of remote sensing and satcom are greatly aided by the satellite positioning and navigation services.

Making the case for India’s National Space Policy – Excerpts from the Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue 2017

This is the second article wherein I present my takeaways from the panel discussions on Making the case for India’s National Space Policy during the 3rd Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue.

Click here for the first article that covers the panel discussions on Transponder Capacity for Broadcasting and Broadband over India.

Continuing the format of the first article, I will similarly provide a brief overview on the current state of Indian National Space Policy before proceeding to describe the panel discussion.

Introduction

The setting up of the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962 marked the beginning of the Indian Space Program. ISRO was formed in 1969 followed by the Space Commission and the Department of Space, in 1972. The period between the 1960s and the late 1970s did not see stringent export controls on high technology. By the time the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was established by Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Great Britain, and the United States in 1987, ISRO had already initiated its process of capacity building in space activities by securing the baseline technologies. After India’s nuclear tests of 1974 and 1998, ISRO and several other R&D and production entities pursuing space and missile technology came under heavy sanctions by the US, locking them out of western technology. For instance, the agreement between ISRO and Russia’s Glavkosmos for the supply of engines and cryogenic technologies was limited to the sale of only seven KhimMach KVD-1 engines, under U.S. pressure and sanctions imposed in 1992.

The Indian space program has always been focused on societal applications of space technology, emphasizing on cost-effective pursuit of its space ambitions. Since its inception, the Indian Space Program had comprised all the three major elements of conducting space activities – satellites for remote sensing and communication, space transportation services and application programs. This article gives a brief history of these three elements of ISRO that sheds light on the important role played by international entities especially from the Soviet Union, the USA, France and Germany in kickstarting the Indian Space Program.

Background – Law and Policy

During its formative years, the Indian Space program had a strategic advantage with its space programmes being completely under the government’s control without any intervention of specific national space legislations. However, having ratified the first four UN Treaties (the Outer Space Treaty (1967), the Rescue Agreement (1968), the Liability Convention (1972), the Registration Convention (1976)) and being a signatory to the fifth (The Moon Treaty (1984)), implementing India’s international treaty obligations with national law will represent a physical link between its universally declared stand on outer space and its national application. But in international law, harmonization of international conventions with national law is immaterial for a state, since it is required to fulfil its international obligations in good faith.

Article 51 of the Constitution of India read with Article 53 enables the Government to fulfil India’s international treaty obligations with the objective to promote international peace, through the exercise of executive power without imposing the mandatory pre-condition of enacting national laws. However, one exception is when money is to be withdrawn from the Consolidated Fund of India for making payment to discharge liability to a foreign entity. (Refer Pg 158 of this book)

Moreover, the envisaged acceleration and expansion of civilian space applications and the domestic industry as a whole by the current Indian Government will result in increased bilateral, multilateral and transnational interactions and expect a clear, transparent and user friendly legal regime based on easily accessible information. Towards this, there exist several papers, articles and books composed by experts from the Academia, Industry and also the Department of Space, India making the case for a well-designed legal framework and elaborating on issues to be addressed for a streamlined functioning of the complete ecosystem. I have presented a consolidated report on the same in this article.

It is to be noted that there does exist a policy framework under which ISRO and the Department of Space operates and works towards the utilization of outer space for social-economic development of the country. A brief overview of these policies are given below.

  • Industry Participation Policy towards the promotion of active engagement of the domestic industry by – promoting sub-system level designs and supply, encouraging industry’s utilization of ISRO’s facilities, facilitate technology transfer to industry, offer ISRO’s technical consultancy services to the industry players.
  • Commercialization Policy for sale and lease of Indian space assets and services such as – commercial dissemination of earth observation imagery through International ground stations, lease of transponder space on-board INSAT to governmental and non-governmental users, launch services by PSLV and GSLV, Telemetry & Telecommand (TTC) support for foreign satellites, design, development & manufacture of communication satellites for international customers internationally through Antrix Corporation.
  • Remote Sensing Data Policy that contains modalities for managing, permitting the acquisition & dissemination of earth observation imagery with Department of Space (DOS) of the Government of India as the nodal agency
  • SatCom Policy to facilitate use of INSAT satellites’ transponders by private players and also build and operate communication satellites for them
  • International Cooperation Policy to facilitate bilateral and multilateral cooperation programmes for mutual growth, by allowing non-ISRO and foreign payloads to piggyback on Indian satellites; also participation of scientists and policy experts in international discussions
  • Human Resource Development Policy so as to retain the critical contributing workforce by offering incentives; sponsored research for creating capacity in the academia
  • Effective user participation to promote utilization of space assets and services by other departments and ministries via the INSAT Coordination Committee (ICC), Planning Committee of National Natural Resource Management System (PC-NNRMS) and Advisory Committee on Space Sciences (ADCOS)
  • Technology Upgradation Policy towards realization of indigenous cost-effective space systems and subsystems for the satellites, launch vehicles and the ground support systems.

However, only the Satellite Communication Policy of 1997 and the Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP) of 2011 are explicitly mentioned under India’s Space Policy on ISRO’s website.

Panel Discussion

This panel had an interesting mix of speakers from the defense, law, government and industry domains.

Gp Cpt Ajey Lele from the Institute for Defence Studies Analyses, an India think-tank on security and strategic studies, began the panel discussion presenting three arguments against India having a space legislation.

Argument 1 A decade ago, nobody believed that ISRO would reach the Mars, and this impossible feat was accomplished without having any space law in place. The future missions can be accomplished similarly, sans space law.
Argument 2 ISRO is yet to make its GSLV Mk-3 operational. Formulating a space law can be considered after the current projects are complete.
Argument 3 ISRO has been displaying immense potential and capability, having a space law would only limit its innovation.

These arguments might have been the reason behind the lack of political will towards enacting a space law in the country. He strongly opines the need for independent policy frameworks for the commercial, social and strategic space sectors given the different motivation and modus operandi of their space missions. He also emphasises that the domestic space policy should evolve keeping in mind India’s stance on outer space on the international front. India has always followed the norms of the five major space treaties it is signatory to, has accepted the norms of Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures (TCBM) in Outer Space, the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space, and has never opposed the PPWT (Treaty on Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects). The strategic space policy of India should be framed in such a manner as to not support weaponization of outer space. He also underscored the need for a structural mechanism, wherein the India Space Command would have a Military Space Commission similar to the current Space Commission of the Department of Space. Also required are a robust legal architecture, space situational awareness mechanism and importantly, counter space mechanism.

(Note Speaking of weaponization of outer space, given the ASAT tests by the US, Russia and China, there exist equally strong arguments in favour of and against India demonstrating ASAT capability, especially after the former DRDO Chief VK Saraswat declared India’s readiness for ASAT. The argument against demonstration cites the philosophy of the Indian Space Program since its inception of utilising space technology as a tool for the benefit of the mankind. It is concerned that the international image of India as a peaceful democracy would be tarnished, not to mention the space debris the test would create. The argument in favour draws a parallel with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty NPT that only accepted those states (which are also UN Security Council permanent members) as nuclear power states that had acquired nuclear weapons capability before 1970. India only carried out the first nuclear explosion in 1974 and had since been under several sanctions as coercion to make it sign the NPT (India, China and NPT). If India doesn’t demonstrate its Asat capability, the three states who have already proven theirs might formulate a similar non-Asat treaty and India would again get coerced to accept the same and refrain from carrying out an Asat test. Asat capability will give India significant leverage in international bilateral and multilateral negotiations, which will be forever lost if such an anti-Asat treaty comes into force.
A good compilation on the history of ASAT-tests is published here)

Ashok GV, a lawyer with clients in the defence, aeronautics and space sectors focused his talk on the commercial industry and startup community perspectives of space policy. The key players in the Indian space ecosystem are currently ISRO, the Department of Space and the commercial arm Antrix Corp. He opines that the biggest challenge to the domestic space law will be in balancing the competing interests of all stakeholders while simultaneously considering national security in times of rising trends of weaponization of space, preserving the socio-economic oriented legacy of the Indian space program, regulations of international space law treaties and directives, and the emerging commercial space players. The liability aspects of the domestic law should be especially robust given the increasing number of commercial launches of ISRO. With the Department of Space acting as a regulator while its ISRO acts as a service provider, there is a clear case of conflict of interest and measures should be taken to inspire confidence among the emerging private players. As a solution, he suggests increasing the role of Department of Telecom as a regulator, since they have already experienced the Indian Telecom sector ecosystem and their insights can benefit the SatCom arena, while also incentivising the participation of domestic private players. Moreover, the role of regulator should be clearly defined with strict guidelines for transparency and accountability in place. An interesting point he made, was the need for a clear code of conduct in times of national security threats such as debris collisions with our critical satellites or direct attacks on our space assets such as Asat.

Narayan Prasad, co-founder of space and energy companies in India and the US said that we should look at national space policy as space infrastructure rather than a mere regulatory framework. From his decade long experience, the biggest lacuna is the absence of a detailed study of the overall space economy. There is not a single metric that gives the size of the Indian space economy, other than the book by U Sankar, but it is a decade old and doesn’t apply today.
(Note ISRO does release an Outcome Budget annually, but the report only mentions the expenditures of ISRO’s missions and doesn’t include any breakup of the industry contributions nor the industry revenues)
He says that despite the Indian market being very big, there is no startup support ecosystem in India. More important than providing economic incentives to the domestic SMEs is contributing towards their scale and global presence, so that instead of rotation of tax money they would eventually bring foreign revenues to the Indian space sector. An annual study whose metrics include the private industry and integrate India’s space economy is the need of the hour.

K R Sridhara Murthi has spent three decades of his career between ISRO, Antrix and now the academia. He compared the decade long debate on India’s space policy to the story of blind men touching an elephant. Policy is driven by goal and so far the goal of the Indian space program has been societal development and has resulted in the operational status of today. India’s space budget is about 0.05% of the nation’s GDP which is much lower than that of other major space faring countries. In spite of this and its fragmented framework of policies such as the Satcom policy, RSDP, Technology Transfer Policy, Industrial Trade and Security related policies as per international treaty obligations and guidelines, ISRO has successfully carried out the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE–1), and the cost-effective Mars and Moon missions. It has tapped into the commercial space through Antrix by providing launch services and lease of satellite transponders. It has even collaborated internationally with other space agencies such as NASA, CNES.  Therefore, he says, the question is whether India needs to renew its space policy. Given the unique opportunities for India such as its young demographic, expanding education, urbanisation, there is a great growth potential for India to become a major economic power. However, this transition would be greatly aided by positioning space technology to offer solutions in convergence with ICT technology and growing mobile environments. Space technology in the form of GIS can solve many governance challenges. Therefore, he says, there is a need a need for the space policy approach to move from being space agency centric towards facilitating a national space ecosystem.

Very soon, disruptive technologies in the launch market will change the entire price structure of launch services and ISRO should start focusing on developing reusable launch vehicles. As Prof Satish Dhawan, former ISRO chairman, had said, ISRO should refrain from doing what the industry is capable of and instead concentrate on R&D. Since space is all about long-term, he said ISRO now needs a new program and direction, now that it has achieved operational status. There needs to be a new wave of drive for R&D and innovation with the major motivation being societal benefit, but through a long-term vision of development of the space economy and space ecosystem as a whole.

Marco Aliberti, a Resident Fellow at the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) in Vienna, was the only non-Indian speaker at the session and presented an outsider’s view of the Indian space program. He quipped that the most frustrating aspect of the Indian Space program is that whatever one says about it, the opposite is also true. He says the apparent absence of need for a declared space policy amongst the policy makers can either be because of the lack of a strategic vision or the intention to provide flexibility to actors. However, he says, a declared space policy would clearly communicate to new players the opportunities and the boundaries. It is also of utmost importance for international cooperation, in that, it would help foreign players to better identify the scope of collaboration and frame their terms and offers of cooperation in more practical ways. Moreover, it is highly essential for Outer space Transparency and Confidence Building Measures. He opines that the current B2B environment of the Indian space ecosystem is non-structured, scattered with no sharing of vendor information between ISRO’s centers. He says their is a need for clear regulatory mechanisms to stimulate and streamline the B2B environment and also the ecosystem as a whole.

The speakers were then asked by Mukund Rao of National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) from the audience for their take on the underlying purpose of a national space policy in one sentence. Their answers can very well summarise the panel discussion.

Expansion of national economy.

Addressing the existing last mile ambiguity.

Identification of national security and economic priorities.

 

Indian Space Legislation: Consolidated Report on Issues & Recommendations

There exist several papers, articles and books composed by experts from the Academia, Industry and also the Department of Space, India making the case for a well-designed legal framework towards a streamlined functioning of the complete Indian Space ecosystem. This article is a consolidated report covering the major issues raised and recommendations made from sources such as

National Regulation of Space Activities

The International Law of Outer Space and Consequences at the National Level for India: Towards an Indian National Space Law?

India’s Round Table Conference on Issues for National Space Legislation

Space 2.0: Shaping India’s Leap into the Final Frontier

With the Indian Government aiming to accelerate and expand the use of space technology in national projects and calling for increased industry participation in its space program, there seem to be two broad motivations for formulating a full-fledged national space legislation – ensuring national space security and regulation of private player activities in space.

1. Protection of National Interests and National Security

National space legislation cannot in any way modify a state’s international obligations laid down in the space treaties. However, most of the international space regulations and in particular the Outer Space Treaty (1967), the Liability Convention (1972) and the Registration Convention (1976) impose numerous obligations on governments that cannot somehow be transferred to private entities. The national laws are to be framed so as to regulate the activity of private entities.

1.1. Registration of Space Objects

Since 1987, the DoS maintains the Indian Registry of all objects launched into outer space by India and furnishes appropriate information to the UN Secretary General through the Permanent Mission of India to the UN (Vienna).

  • However, a system is to be put in place to establish how and when a space operator will provide data about its space object to the state for inclusion in the Indian and UN Registries.

In the current globalised world, there are four possibilities for a launching state for one single mission: the state which launches; the state which procures the launch service; the state from whose territory the launch occurs; and the state which owns the launch facility

  • Therefore, it will be required to establish clear rules so as to prevent double registration since only ONE state must register with the UN.

1.2. Liability of Launching State

The Liability Convention (1972) places absolute and unlimited liability on the launching state for damage caused on Earth or to aircrafts in flight by the space object; Fault liability for damage caused elsewhere; Joint liability of all the four possible launching states.

Given the primary liability of the authorizing state, prerequisites are to be laid down by the state to guarantee that the amount paid by the state for the damage caused by space objects of private entities will eventually be recoverable. Some conditions can be:

  • Compulsory insurance covering the launch
  • Compulsory insurance covering the operation of the space object
  • Issuance and transfer of launch and reentry licenses under state control
  • Proof of ability to compensate for liability claims
  • Maintain insurance throughout the period of operation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US and the French National Space Act of 2008 include some of these measures. Commercial launch license in the US is the responsibility of the Office of Commercial Space Transportation of the FAA. As per the French Space Operations Act (FSOA) 2008 – Operator should maintain insurance; Operator absolutely liable for damage on earth and airspace; right to make claim for indemnification by the operator, when Govt. pays compensation as per international liability

1.3. Authorization and Supervision

Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty states that “The activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty”.

Article VI does not directly require the enactment of national space legislation, but ultimately this has emerged as the optimal solution to govern the authorization and supervision of private activities in outer space. Moreover, formulating a national act will serve additional purposes:

  • Establish safety standards and guidelines for space activities in general
  • Mechanism to ensure adherence to the safety guidelines by private parties
  • Guidelines towards space debris mitigation and prevention
  • Ensuring non-interference of private activities with national security and foreign policy interests

2. Rising Private Player Participation

The origins of the multi-billion dollar Virgin Galactic, world’s first commercial spaceline, can be traced back to the Ansari X Prize whose winners founded the Mojave Aerospace firm which had developed the suborbital spacecraft for Virgin. This is one live example underscoring the fact that innovation is the main ingredient of competition that in turn builds excellence.

45 years after the last human visit to the moon under the US Government’s Apollo Program that costed $110 Billion in today’s money, the private space company SpaceX is attempting to do a manned fly-by at a fractional cost.
(* NASA has awarded SpaceX $2.6 billion to finish the crewed version of its Dragon capsule. Since the cost of the manned lunar fly-by is hinted to be “a little more than” the cost of a crewed mission to the ISS, even a $5 billion cost is only 5% of the Apollo mission. However, the Apollo program was too grand to be compared to this private fly-by mission, for the former involved 24 astronauts of which 12 landed on the moon and 6 drove roving vehicles on the surface. Moreover, SpaceX like other private companies such as United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Arianespace are subsidised by its Government)

Certainly, handholding by the Governments is necessary in the high-risk entry-barrier laden business of space, for at least a decade or so.

2.1. Promoting Domestic Industry Participation

The “Make in India” initiative has the potential to create the needed competitive environment with the participation of the government-industry-academia triad. Additionally, the following policy initiatives can be taken

  • Setting up a national fund for promotion of entrepreneurship on similar lines of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) & Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program and ESA’s Open Sky Technologies Fund (OSTF).
  • Establishing a Business Incubation Center (BIC) in a public-private partnership mode involving ISRO, downstream space applications based startups, government departments associated with entrepreneurship and economic development, domestic space industry players, and venture capital firms in the lines of ESA BIC.
  • Promoting interdependent engagement of academia-industry-agency where each of these stakeholders have concrete involvement in deliverables and gain significant benefits having long term ecosystem prospects of spin-offs.
    The cutting edge Hodoyoshi micro-satellite series by Japan developed through collaboration between its industry and academia. Hoyodoshi-I was a collaboration between the University of Tokyo and Axelspace, a startup company.
  • Setting up a national prize event along the lines of Google’s X-Prize with ISRO being the primary promoter and bringing potential investors and stakeholders on the same table to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.
    TeamIndus is one of the leading teams in the Google Lunar X-Prize and is gearing up for a moon landing in Dec 2017 onboard the PSLV.
  • Establish an independent national think tank that can provide a fair assessment in purview of national goals, key insights on space programme management, dual-use of technologies, economic impacts of space expenditures, space law, international cooperative space agreements, among other matters.
    The European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) provides decision-makers with an informed view on mid- to long-term issues relevant to Europe’s space activities

On the other hand, given the Indian Space Program’s philosophy of primarily catering to the needs of the common man, there is an ethical obligation on the industry players to observe a CSR outlook towards the new space ethos. Additionally, they need to establish an institutional system such as a union or a chamber of commerce that can act as a platform to voice out their opinions, discuss solutions for their issues and cooperate with each other for the growth of the industry as a whole.

2.2. Regulatory Gaps to be Addressed

Policies for the participation of private players do exist, such as the Satellite Communication Policy whose fundamental aim includes development of communications satellite and ground equipment industry as well as satellite communications service industry in India; and the Remote Sensing Data Policy (2011) that allows, under some restrictions, private sector agencies to disseminate satellite remote sensing data in India. There exist areas in the current space regulation regime of the country where the private actors offer recommendations for the growth of the entire domestic private space industry:

2.2.1. Technology Transfer & IPR Issues

  • Establishment of definite timelines for private player collaborations and interactions with the DoS for technology transfer
  • Clarity on IPR of spin-off technologies resulting from a transferred technology
  • Clarity on patenting issues over inventions made onboard space objects as addressed in the 35 U.S. Code § 105 – Inventions in outer space.

2.2.2. Liability & Insurance

  • Placing caps on insurance claims with the government covering the additional amount in cases when a third-party claim exceeds the licensee’s insurance.
    As per the US Indemnification Policy under the Commercial Space Launch Act (CSLA), the US government covers any third-party claims in excess of $500 million (required insurance coverage cap) to a limit of $3 billion.
  • A common national liability pool involving all major stakeholders to prevent the faulting player from going bankrupt and also to avoid burdening the state exchequer if the player somehow turns out to be unable to pay the liability
  • The existing Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 can be expanded and elaborated for the space sector

2.2.3. Registration & Licensing

  • Transferability of licenses & registration and terms of transfer, given the obvious fact that selling and buying of space assets will be an integral aspect of space business
  • Distribution of liability amongst the participating parties when there is a transfer of ownership
  • Transfer clauses specially when the transfers are done between states or parties belonging to different states

2.2.4. Capacity Building

  • The GNSS user meet jointly hosted by ISRO and Airports Authority of India (AAI) in 2015 is a commendable initiative towards encouraging industry participation in development of communication satellite infrastructure. Guidelines on establishment of ground support systems and receiver systems are to be detailed.

2.2.5. Miscellaneous

  • Establishment of an ‘Office of Space Commerce’ as a principal unit under the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India that can act as the regulating body for private participation
  • Guidelines on dispute resolution mechanisms given the high technology, high risk and dual-nature of space activities, between non-government as well as government entities

3. Conclusion

The way forward is definitely to draft a national legislation. However, given the multiple vantage points of the different stakeholders involved and the fact that law in general can be interpreted in several ways, drafting a space law that meets the approval of every player will be an intricate if not tedious task. With the additional requirement of adhering to obligations of the international space treaties India has signed, legal framework of space is certain to be elaborate and probably more complex than that of the terrestrial facets of the country.

Please refer the other articles for the latest discussion on the Indian Space Policy “ 3rd Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue 2017“.