India launched the Indian Space Association in order to increase its influence in the space economy. It will share the knowledge of its civilian space agency to private companies.
On October 11, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the creation of the Indian Space Association (ISpA) a pool of private companies presented as an "industry association of space and satellite companies".
As such, the government of India will share the knowledge of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Indian NASA equivalent, to selected private companies. Modi wants India to act as an "enabler" rather than a "handler". "Today, from defense to space sector, the government is sharing its expertise, providing launch pads for the private sector."
Nelco, a TATA group company, is one of the dozen members of ISpA. The company announced last week a partnership with the Canadian Telesat in order to offer commercial satellite communications by 2024.
Another member is OneWeb, a low earth orbit satellite communications company saved from bankruptcy in 2020 by the UK government and the Indian billionaire Sunil Bharti Mittal’s conglomerate, owner of Bharti Airtel, another organization part of ISpA and one of the largest mobile network operators in the world.
Soon more satellites in space than during the entire space age history
In fact, India wants to position itself in the new growing space economy and grasp a share of the market.
"Today, we move from an information age to the space age", the prime minister explained. "We now move from being a supplier of space components to being a part of the end-to-end space-systems supply chain."
OneWeb shared its ambition to reach a total fleet of 648 satellites, three times as many as today, by the end of 2022 and attain global coverage. A month ago, OneWeb signed an agreement with AT&T to provide satellites so that the American telecommunications company can offer internet services in remote areas where cables, optical fibers or wireless connections are for now out of reach.
But the competition didn't wait for India to start the race.
Starlink, SpaceX’s satellite network to provide internet access, ambitions to have as many as 42,000 satellites in orbit and already received permission by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to fly 12,000 satellites. This is more than all satellites sent into space in the entire human history.
Moreover, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a $10-billion investment, received approval from the FCC to operate a constellation of 3,236 satellites in July 2020.
To put the numbers into perspective, only 12,070 satellites have been launched since 1957 and the start of the space age, according to the European Space Agency. As of September 2021, about 7,550 satellites, 38% of them not functioning, were still in space.
India wants a 9% market share of the space economy by 2030
According to the ISRO, the current size of space industry stands at about US $360 billion. And India accounts for only 2% of the space economy, or $7.2 billion today, but it wants to capture 9% of market share by 2030.
The announcement also comes into the AatmaNirbharBharat plan, the ambition of Modi to make India self-reliant. The prime minister envisions India to be autonomous in terms of satellite communications.
As India's government has been using Internet as a political tool, Modi also sells telecommunications investment and satellite imagery as an innovation helping Indians for improving infrastructure projects, providing better weather forecasts for farmers or better monitoring of natural disasters.