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Saturday, September 18, 2021

Pawan Goenka: Plan to hike India’s presence in global space business

Pawan Goenka said he will be meeting stakeholders in the space industry 'over the next few weeks' so as to understand the 'nuances that are holding the sector back'.

Written by Sohini Ghosh | Ahmedabad |
September 14, 2021 4:14:17 am
Pawan Goenka was virtually addressing the second edition of the International Space Conference and Exhibition. (File Photo)

Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe) chairman designate Pawan Goenka on Monday said he is planning to take the country’s participation in the global space business from the present 2 per cent to 10 per cent, adding that he expects some space-based start-ups to “become unicorns in the near future”.

IN-SPACe falls under the Department of Science and is aimed at being an interface between ISRO and private players.

Virtually addressing the second edition of the International Space Conference and Exhibition (ISCE), Goenka, the former Mahindra & Mahindra managing director, said his first priority is to provide clarity on regulations and policies pertaining to the space sector, with IN-SPACe opening up the sector to widespread participation from private players, while also outlining that government space agencies will continue to bear the primary responsibility for pushing science and technology.

Pointing out that space economy is a $440 billion global sector, with India having “less than 2 per cent of share in that sector, though India is a leading space-faring country”, Goenka said, “I can clearly see and say, that space is one of the few sectors where India can rub shoulders with the best of the world in terms of technical capability and R&D infrastructure… We have already heard (of) a lot of interest in the private sector, and amongst tech start-ups…I’ve been waiting for some of these (start-ups) to become a unicorn in the near future… More investments have to come into this sector. I believe India’s total investment of the private sector in the start-up space is only about $21-22 million, which is less than half a per cent of investment that has been made in the global tech startups in the space sector.”

Goenka, who is self-admittedly a “stranger” to the space sector, further confessing that he has “heard of only two” of the 71 speakers who are scheduled to speak during the three-day conference, added that he plans to “learn about the sector, the opportunities, the people involved, the challenges that this sector has”.

Goenka said he will be meeting stakeholders in the space industry “over the next few weeks” so as to understand the “nuances that are holding the sector back”.

“Opportunities are everywhere, but our progress is somewhat muted though we are fairly new in terms of privatising the space sector. I’m also aware that many of you, especially in the private sector, are waiting for regulatory clarity and policy announcements, and that will be clearly my first priority, as I take responsibility for IN-SPACe… Undoubtedly, we will have to continue to push the frontiers of science and technology, for which government space agencies will have the primary responsibility..,” said Goenka.

Listing some of the areas of opportunity, Goenka said, “I also see a lot of untapped opportunities for suppliers in the industry to supply outside India… Lithium-ion battery for example, developed by ISRO, was talked about 3-4 years ago in a big way to bring in lithium-ion battery for cars… A lot of development in ISRO or other space labs — in sensors, coatings, materials — all of these probably will have applications in other industries…Space always leads in technology…”

ISRO chairperson K Sivan, also speaking virtually at the event, impressed on the growing role start-ups will play in this sector and added that the Department of Science has “already started receiving several proposals from industry, soon after the announcement of the space sector reform” and that it has received “requests from as many as 40 space companies so far and the applications are being processed for further
action”.

“Interestingly, a major chunk of these are start-up companies, which also includes newly incorporated ones. The department sees start-ups as the new industry partners, the potential future players who can contribute to the space economy and we will be able to enable them to become competitive with other global space players. There is also enormous scope for foreign companies to tie up with Indian companies in the space sector,” said Sivan.

Echoing Goenka’s idea of a division of work between the government and private space agencies, Sivan added that going forward, ISRO will be “concentrating more on research and development, and space science mission and we’ll strive for overcoming the challenges and reduce the technological gaps in a timely and more responsive manner in the changing scenario. ISRO facilities and expertise will be leveraged so that opportunities will be there for private industry to generate more cash flow and investment”.

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