Isro to share satellite tech with Indian private companies

Business Standard | August 26, 2015

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The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) plans to share satellite manufacturing technology with private Indian companies so that they can tap the market for small commercial satellites.

Isro will also share the knowhow for ground equipment that capture satellite data and process it for specific local applications. “Whenever there is a large production of satellites, there will also be requirement for sub systems,” said A S Kiran Kumar, Isro chairman.

Companies are planning to launch hundreds of small satellites to beam high-speed Internet in remote parts of the world. The biggest is OneWeb, a global consortium that includes the Virgin Group, Bharti Enterprises and Qualcomm. It aims to launch 648 small satellites. PlanetLabs, a US company aided by NASA, is planning to launch 150 imaging satellites.

Isro launches satellites for European companies and foreign universities. The polar satellite launch vehicle is a third cheaper than rival launchers in Europe, Russia and China.

Between 2,000 and 2,750 nano and micro satellites would be launched till 2020, SpaceWorks Enterprises, a US company, said in 2014.

“We want to enable the Indian space ecosystem. The demand for electronics in the space industry is growing. There are opportunities for niche companies,” said Kumar.

“Some of the technology is already with private companies,” he added.

Dhruva Space, a three-year-old company, is working with a German firm to make a satellite to be launched on an Indian rocket. Sanjay Srikanth Nekkanti, the 25-year-old co-founder of the Bengaluru start-up, said, “The opportunity for Indian companies is not just in manufacturing but in turnkey solutions. We should also launch the satellites in India,” said Nekkanti.

The space industry is highly regulated with the US and China requiring satellites have only local components and systems. Besides, the cost of building a satellite and launching it is prohibitive, which makes governments prefer local firms.

“Like for larger satellites, the market for small satellites is primarily a government market turning to the domestic industry,” said Rachel Villain, principal adviser at Euroconsult, an analysis agency for the space industry.

Isro is also exploring allowing local companies to make and own communication satellites to aid its launch capabilities. Isro has launched 45 foreign satellites and has orders to launch 28 more from seven countries.

“India’s advantage seems more obvious in the launch capability for small satellites,” said Villain.