The Indian Space Research Organization took onto its outreach team to unveil the first-ever public release of the Indian Space Policy. It is the first ever for the very reason that in the past sixty years, the Indian government had never articulated and publicised its policy for outer space in one single document. Today with scores of stakeholders multiplying outside the realms of the government, it has become indispensable to coherently put out what the Indian government has mandated itself with when it comes to enhancing the nation’s footprint in outer space. As we at Interstellar had written, this may be the first but not the last policy iteration. I believe that every few years, a new, advanced and relevant version of the space policy will be on the minds of the coming Indian governments. For now, the day’s biggest news is the Indian Space Policy 2023.
The 11-page-long concise policy has the most comprehensive canvas possible for the Indian space program, as it is today, and is based on the 2020 space sector reforms. It may appear that most of the points have been read and heard in the statements of the Indian government, including ISRO and IN-SPACe. However, all those expecting a detailed document should tame their expectations because, in doing so, they are looking for a vision document.
There are also chances that some may find a conspicuous absence of space security-related points. Now for that, one has to understand who has released the document. ISRO and IN-SPACe are the nation’s civilian and commercial space agencies. Of course, the document must have gone through scores of scrutiny and reviews in the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees; the absence of security-related policy hints that a separate space defence document must not be discounted. Let us take the example of US space policies. The US Space Policy, released in 2020 during the Trump Administration, came after a decade-long continuance of its predecessor 2010 version. This 2020 US Space Policy, which I expect to last less than a decade, is under the ambits of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Department of Transportation.
It would be unethical if I didn’t tell you all that the Department of Defense and the United States Intelligence Community are explicitly mentioned in the 2020 US Space Policy. But mull over it, the DoD is one of the foremost benefactors of the US commercial space sector. Furthermore, the DoD and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence operate under a separate document called the 2011 US National Security Space Strategy. The same is not yet the case in India at present. However, by the end of 2020s, the Indian Ministry of Defence will likely swiftly climb the ladder in patronising the Indian commercial space sector. It may also require a separate National Space Security Strategy document under whose realms India’s security apparatuses – military, paramilitary and intelligence – would work.
Further scrutiny of the Indian Space Policy reveals a clear distinction of roles for the Indian Space Research Organization, Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre, New Space India Limited and the Department of Space. The precise role demarcation will soon bring semblance to task delegation, allow all four entities to focus on their tasks, and resultantly will have a multiplier effect regarding the output they generate.
Though not mentioned, the Indian Government’s Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Commerce, with this policy document, have clearly become crucial National Space Policy stakeholders. Terms like “Space Economy”, “incentivise”, “commercial principles”, “consumers”, “and services”, which have recurringly appeared in the 11-page long document, point to their growing stakes and responsibilities. The other governmental and non-governmental institutions mentioned in the policy document are the Wireless Planning and Coordination of the Department of Telecommunications, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and the Ministry of External Affairs. They have also become vital parties when dealing with territorial and extra-territorial interactions, especially with the United Nations and its specialised agencies like the International Telecommunications Union. The growing access of countries to outer space and the convoluted and potential cascade effects of their activities demand the Indian government to be on its toes for any scenario, and the policy makes it visible that problem-solving and opportunity-seeking is the entire government’s responsibility and a robust task delegation rather than task concentration is critical to success.
Every point mentioned in the National Space Policy 2023 requires in-depth analyses. And Interstellar aims to diagnose them diligently in the coming days. However, if I were to indicate the two visibly stunning mandates in the policy, the two would be that:
- ISRO will transition mature technologies and systems to the commercial sector, focusing only on R&D and proving new systems and technologies to meet “national prerogatives.”
- The Department of Space will closely work with the Ministry of External Affairs to coordinate international cooperation and areas of global space governance and programmes.
These two are important takeaways for the simple reason that the first mandate, which was made evident by the government in 2020, is a domestic enabler. It formalises the government’s role in providing proven technologies to the commercial sector for subsequent and comprehensive gains. The second mandate, which the government has seldom spoken about and certainly ISRO and IN-SPACe haven’t too, is absolutely a strategic force multiplier. The jointness of the PMO-MEA in taking the Indian space program international would prove to be a pivotal element for India’s positioning as a superpower. The PMO-MEA jointness will enable India to quickly deploy space technologies and services for humanitarian assistance, extending them as a cooperative hand for human development and using them for strategic gains when needed.
If I am to view it through a crystal ball, the 2023 Indian Space Policy could become a foundational policy framework that would articulate the mandates, rules and regulations on which the Indian space program will function. I am certainly not discounting the existing National Geospatial and Satcom policies. In the next ten years, India may see a National Space Security Strategy document, a Space Transportation Policy, an Orbital Policy and an Interplanetary Policy, including that for Planetary Defence and Planetary Protection. That’s why the word – THE FOUNDATION.