Dr Pawan Goenka, Chairperson of Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre

Dr Pawan Goenka said that 67 proposals have been submitted to IN-SPACe, out of which 10 MoUs have been signed

Following the launch of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) headquarters at Bopal in Ahmedabad on June 10, Chairperson Dr Pawan Goenka is fairly upbeat about the next phase of growth in India’s commercial space sector. As part of its mandate to significantly enhance private sector participation in the sector, the agency will play the role of a promoter, enabler, authoriser and supervisor to turn India into a global spaceport. In this exclusive interaction with Business Today at IN-SPACe’s spanking campus, Dr Goenka elaborates on his next priorities for the sunshine industry.

What all activities will be conducted from IN-SPACEe’s newly inaugurated Ahmedabad headquarters?

We have three directorates – technical, programme management and authorisation, and promotion. And these three directorates have clearly defined roles of what they would be doing. What we have on this campus are the headquarters building and a technical centre. We will be creating four labs in the technical centre covering different facets of space technology infrastructure for the private sector to use. We will make these labs costing up to Rs 25 crore available to start-ups for their requirements. In the first phase of our expansion, we will be setting up a facility in the technical centre for design and stimulation for start-ups. Initially, we will also be allocating space for three to four start-ups to set up their incubation offices on the campus. In phase two, we propose to offer a much larger infrastructure and incubation space for start-ups. But that is still in the planning phase.

How soon is the new space policy likely to be formalised?

The space policy was put out for public comments in the public domain late last year. One must understand there were a lot of intricacies the government needed to look at as the recommendations may have had long-term implications. We now have a fairly comprehensive single policy document. Like, from eight different policies, we have a single policy covering everything. It clearly defines what is available, applicable and doable by the private sector. In brief, there is hardly any restriction being put on its role. However, when I say ‘hardly’, it won’t be a ‘free for all'. There will be certain things that we will be mindful of to ensure our international commitments. Other than that, we aren’t putting any barriers on the private sector. Be it launch vehicles, launch pads, satellites, payloads, applications... The space policy is in the final phase of approval as the prime minister himself has indicated.

What’s the progress on FDI policy for the sector?

The Department of Space (DOS) will propose the FDI policy for space that will subsequently be approved by the competent authorities. We have a situation where a few start-ups are setting up legal entities outside India to attract foreign investments. We are keen to learn why that’s happening and will try to eliminate the need for that as long as it’s unjustifiable. As long as we can liberalise the FDI policy without compromising on the larger interests of the country, we will do that to allow for investments to come in a little bit more freely.

As the sector evolves, how are you looking at developing new synergies with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)?

One of our roles is to work with ISRO to make their facilities available for use by the private sector. Within the MoU we have signed for the purpose, we have what is called a Joint Project Implementation Plan (JPIP) that will be an agreement between ISRO and the private entities for certain activities. IN-SPACe will be facilitating the drafting of JPIP as well as addressing any roadblocks that may arise. ISRO has been extending its fullest support to us.

Also, a lot of work is required in sensitising the insurance firms to the highly specialised requirements of the private sector entities in commercial space…

IN-SPACe will define the liability to be covered by the private sector for specific activities such as satellites, payloads or rocket launches. So far, all these activities were under ISRO, and to the best of my knowledge, ISRO never had to take insurance for launch vehicles. Most countries have a limit of liability on the private sector and we will also be proactively determining that.

How many proposals have been submitted with IN-SPACe at this point?

At this point, 67 proposals have been submitted, out of which we have signed 10 MoUs. Five MoUs are already in advanced stages of completion, and there are some nine that are about the use of ISRO facilities. Among these proposals, several have been submitted in the past few weeks and they are all under consideration. There is regular dialogue between the IN-SPACe person assigned to a proposal and the company. At times, a proposal may not give us a full understanding of what the company wishes to achieve. So, we ask for more clarity in their next presentation. Each one of these things is moving at a pretty good pace. And as the Prime Minister himself mentioned during the inauguration of our headquarters, IN-SPACe is a combination of ‘in-space’ and ‘in-pace’!