The draft Indian space law being readied by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is facing delays because of internal opposition from within ISRO over the inclusion of a military component. The draft is currently being vetted by the armed forces, after which it will be submitted to the Ministry of External Affairs for final comments. A parallel policy is also being drafted, which addresses the militarisation of space and a possible formation of another space agency to handle the military aspect, if the draft law is not approved by the MEA. The draft space law will also help private companies in India to enter the commercial satellite launch services market.
A defence source privy to the developments told The Sunday Guardian: “A space policy, which is being prepared in parallel tracks, is likely to focus on the military aspects of space. This may even lead to the creation of a new space agency that will deal with security concerns in space.”
One of the proposals given by the defence services was to construct a separate launch facility for military satellites on Wheeler Island on the Odisha coast.
The draft of the first Indian space law is in the final stages of its scrutiny by the armed forces and is likely to be tabled in front of the MEA this month for comments, so that it can be made public. The law aims to encourage private firms to enter the space business, leaving ISRO (ISRO) to deep space exploration and research. The process is running two months behind schedule, but the MEA is understood to have asked the armed forces to try and complete their analysis in the next couple of few weeks. “Delays at the service headquarters are the main culprits for the process to have dragged on till March. It was supposed to have been completed by December last year. Now the parallel policy is also causing jitters among a lot of people” a source part of the drafting team said.
The process was initiated over a year ago and a major conference was held in Bangalore in January last year to discuss the various defining clauses. “The proposed legislation will allow private players to enter into space ventures in India, including owning satellites and permission to operate their own launch vehicles like the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, as majority in the agency is now strongly in favour of handing over commercial operations of the ISRO to a consortium of private firms,” the ISRO source said.
Indian private companies only serve as suppliers to ISRO at present, and space activities are solely the domain of the ISRO. “In recent years, there were multiple proposals from private companies to be allowed to launch satellites and carry out downstream applications. But these proposals are not stuck in limbo because of the policy paralysis in the space business. We want to do away with it and implement a regulatory law, before opening up the space industry to private firms,” he said. In contrast, private firms in western countries like the United States, Germany, France and UK and more lead the industry in satellite manufacturing and launch vehicle operations. “We want to free ISRO of its commercial shackles and delve into deep-space exploration and space research,” the source said.