China is working on a host of different weapons designed to destroy/disable US satellites in space

Outer space is being utilised for two main military purposes — missiles delivery and C4ISR functions. Trends towards space weaponisation is increasing despite the international space treaties stressing peaceful uses of outer space. Nevertheless, given the trends in India’s own backyard, it is important to operationalising the Space Command to synergise the use of space assets for defence as well as for better awareness of the space assets. However, ISRO is not in a position to handle the requirements owing to lack of finances, manpower and infrastructure. Therefore, India should develop its private space industry for handling routine work while ISRO concentrates on research and development. Given India’s reliance on space assets, it must not shy away from framing the rules for space sustainability.

Satellites are a ubiquitous tool to provide various services such as internet to far-flung areas. Telecom services have evolved from providing fixed-point voice calls to a host of services now such as internet. However, satellites services are yet to be leveraged for optimum utilisation and reasons for this could be policy, cost or procedures. The cost of acquiring satellite transponders is not optimum due to the procedures involved. This procedure needs to be streamlined for effective commercial use of leased transponders.

India is experiencing a significant gap between demand and supply of transponder capacity. Moreover, the technology on the ground is changing faster while the capability to update the telecommunications satellites in orbit is almost nil. On-orbit refuelling could become a game changer by extending the lifetime of satellites as well as sustain business models. Meanwhile, small satellite constellations are being designed for satellite internet, imaging etc. Micro satellites are the fastest growing segment in the small satellite market and can perform various missions like the bigger satellites. Given the skill set, low manufacturing costs and the proven launch vehicles — PSLV, GSLV, India could become a global hub for these activities. The Indian space program has nurtured a few industry players but the future requirements can be met only through a consolidated effort of encouraging the industry and new space players. This will also help India increase its stakes in the global space industry. Satellites will be driving future platforms and technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) creating more value driven businesses. One of the key enablers of these future requirements is low launch cost and electric propulsion on satellites. India should liberalise its propulsion licensing regime to enable the industry innovate with different propulsion technologies.

However, there is an increasing effort in space weaponisation by advanced countries. The anti-satellite weapons could include kinetic and non-kinetic weapons such as missiles and lasers. The capacity of countries to jam satellite signals such as GPS is increasing. China is developing advanced anti-satellite technologies while trying to better encrypt its own satellites to prevent jamming. China possesses greater space capabilities alongside hard and soft kill capabilities. The military reforms are helping China with better interoperability and integrated asset applications. India needs to raise its own space capabilities along a timeline guided by a vision document and policy. India’s defence space and cyber agencies needs to be operationalised at the earliest for better coordination. There are increasing prospects of great power conflict with high probability for a conflict extending into space. The multilateral governance architecture designed during the Cold War is not comprehensive enough to deal with the contemporary developments.

The evolution of India’s launch vehicle program and future trajectory are tailored for civilian requirements. Cutting down the launch cost per kilogram is a trend of the present and ISRO is trying to lower its launch cost by working on the reusable launch vehicle and the development of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) program. The semi-cryogenic engine program will help increase the payload capacity without altering the structural dimensions of the launch vehicle. However, advances in electronics and materials is helping bring down the satellite weight without reducing its capacity and therefore launch capabilities need to be tailored for such advances.

India’s space program is self-reliant and has been also providing launch services to foreign countries. The potential of lunar resources for energy generation and the possibility of lunar bases can be alluded.

In Summary

Outer space is contested and congested and resiliency has to be developed given the criticality of space assets in governance and commerce. Space weaponisation is a growing threat with the development of hard and soft kill capabilities. Resiliency can be enhanced by developing launch ready spacecraft and rapid response launch vehicles. A declared space policy is highly valuable from an international perspective because it can serve as a communication tool to affirm principles and boundaries and avoid speculation. It would enhance India’s standing as a space power and partner in international rule making based on shared national interests. (Abridged from an ORF Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue Report)

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