The government is likely to introduce the Space Activities Bill, 2017, which will allow commercial use of space, in the budget session of 2019

“Steps are being taken …. So that the Bill could be possibly introduced during the Budget session 2019,” according to an answer provided to a question posed in the Lok Sabha.

After the draft of the bill was put in the public domain in November 2017, the government received 52 responses, of which 15 were from the general public. The rest were from the Indian aerospace industry and start-ups, law firms or lawyers, space experts and scholars, and satellite communication companies.

“Responses fall broadly under the category of seeking clarifications and suggestions on certain provisions, such as scope of space activities, regulatory mechanism, licencing and authorisation procedures, sharing of liability burden with a limit on damage costs, penal provisions, powers of Central Government, etc,.” the reply stated.

The bill is aimed at regulating space activities to ensure peaceful exploration and use of outer space. The bill requires licensed entities to carry out operations in a manner that prevents the contamination of outer space or damage to the earth’s environment. Space missions must not jeopardise public health nor compromise the security or sovereignty of India, according to the draft bill that had been put up in the public domain.

“This is much needed and much awaited. Allowing commercial use will increase the domestic capacity for launches. ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) is already hard pressed given the growing demand for communication, disaster management and several other national priority areas,” said Rajeswari Rajagopalan, head of the nuclear and space policy initiative at the Observer Research Foundation.

“More launches would ensure that India remains competitive in the international market having already established itself as a low-cost, reliable launcher. However, now China is also emerging so we need to increase our capacity.”

The bill provides for imprisonment of up to three years and fine of over Rs 1 crore if any activity is undertaken without prior licensing, false information is furnished, or if it pollutes earth, airspace, outer space or celestial bodies. The bill also states that any intellectual property right developed on board a space object in outer space will be the property of the Central government.

“The draft bill that was released proposed a model in which the government was responsible for setting the goals; the government will act as gatekeepers. Instead, everyone should be given a level playing field. The best example is NASA, its importance has not diminished just because there is a SpaceX,” said Rajagopalan, referring to the US space agency and Elon Musk’s rocket company.