The Next Frontier: Analyzing India’s Focus on Space Technology


From the humble beginnings of transporting rocket parts on bullock carts to the proud achievement of launching a record number of satellites in a single mission, India has proven itself as a trailblazer in space exploration.

Until recently, India’s space sector could broadly but in no way exclusively be divided into two major domains: commercial and research. The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), which made India the fourth nation to reach Mars, and the Chandrayan-3 Mission to soft launch on the south pole of the lunar surface, are purely research initiatives for space exploration. On the other hand, launching foreign satellites for communication, navigation, and resource survey/management are commercial space activities. 

Space Technology & Economy in India

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), formed on August 15, 1969, is the country’s official space agency. Its mission is to harness, sustain, and augment space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration.  It has led and defined the nation’s space industry and economy with 124 spacecraft missions, 432 foreign satellite launches, 98 launch missions, and much more. The Bengaluru-headquartered organisation is gearing up for Gaganyaan, India’s first manned mission to space. Several Non-Government Entities (NGEs) aid ISRO as vendors and/or suppliers.

A report by the World Economic Forum and McKinsey estimates the size of the global space industry to be $630 Bn in 2023. It is expected to grow 9% per annum and reach $1.8 Tn by 2035. The private sector plays a defining role in driving innovation and access through large-scale investments, while non-space private sector partnerships with space players continue to expand.

In a landmark effort to engage and promote private entities in the space sector, the Government of India launched the Indian Space Policy 2023. There are 189 DPIIT-recognised space technology startups in India, and the space startups have garnered investment worth $124.7 Mn during March-December 2023. The policy enables NGEs to engage end-to-end in all domains of the space sector, making startups a lucrative investment option for investors. Alphabet Inc. became one of the first to capitalise on the lucrative potential with an investment of $36 Mn in a Bengaluru-based satellite imaging startup called Pixxel.  As the space sector flourishes with emerging startups, established NGEs like Dhruva Space, SatSure, Skyroot, and more are also expanding the remit of their operations and research under the policy. 

NGEs access to Space

NGEs can undertake end-to-end activities in the space sector through the establishment and operation of space objects, ground-based assets, and related services. They can own, procure, or lease satellites for communications, remote sensing, navigation, etc., both within and outside the Indian air space. The data from said satellites can be disseminated in India or abroad. Moreover, they can also design, craft, and operate launch vehicles for space and the launch infrastructure.

Furthermore, NGEs can also be tasked by security agencies to create, procure, and operate tailor-made technologies. In short, NGEs and the private sector now have the entire spectrum of the space economy accessible to them. 

India’s space economy, valued at $8.4 Bn in 2023, currently accounts for 2-3% of the global space economy. But it is estimated to grow to $44 Bn by 2033. The private sector can play a critical role in realising this.

Government Initiatives Towards Space Liberalisation

While the potential is limitless, much of the success of India’s space economy shall depend on government support and guidance as space tech entrepreneurs take their initial steps of private participation in the space sector.

To facilitate participation from the private sector, the Department of Space (DoS) established the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe). Though funded by the DoS, IN-SPACe is an autonomous, single-window, nodal agency for all space sector activities of NGEs. It serves as an authorisation and clearance agency for space launches, provides infrastructure support for launch pads, monitors and facilitates the procurement and trade of satellites, enables the use of DoS facilities, and more. IN-SPACe also offers technical expertise and assistance to NGEs and handholds them through the process by sharing technologies, best practices, and products. 

Meanwhile, NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), serving as the commercial arm of ISRO under DoS, helps NGEs commercialise their space technologies and platforms. It facilitates manufacturing, leasing, procuring, and trading space components, technologies, and other assets for global markets. It also facilitates space services offered by ISRO and now private companies and consortiums to international and global agencies.

Regulatory Reforms 

While the DoS has always worked closely with the Ministry of External Affairs to facilitate and enhance cooperation and coordination in global space governance and initiatives, the Government of India seeks to provide advocacy and advisory support to the private players in the space sector. The Indian Space Association (ISpA) was launched in October 2021 as the single voice of the private space industry. It acts as a bridge between the government and the private industry and is completely independent of the government’s regulatory purview. The single-window agency, better described as an association or community, offers guidance and facilitates business opportunities for startups in the space sector. 

In a more recent and direct reform, an amendment to the FDI policy allows up to 100% foreign direct investment in manufacturing and procuring satellite systems. The satellite sub-sector of the space industry has been distinguished into three different segments with defined foreign investment ceilings.

  • Launch vehicles and their associated products/services can have up to 49% FDI
  • Activities like operation, data products, and ground and user segments can receive up to 74% FDI
  • And up to a 100% FDI for the manufacture of satellite components, sub-systems, and ground and user segments of the same 

The story so far

India’s space sector has always promoted domestic manufacturing and innovation. These principles have held the nation’s space economy in good stead, with the NSIL reporting an annual turnover of INR 28.42 Cr in FY 22-23 alone.  The space economy is on a sharp upward trajectory with the influx of space-tech startups and other NGEs. The IN-SPACe has already signed 51 MoUs with NGEs to actualise and support the manufacture of launch vehicles and satellites.  

Other notable successes include the commercial launches of LVM3 & PSLV and the successful launch of Aditya-L1 aboard PSLV C57 to observe the Sun, cementing India’s place in the global space industry for research and commerce. 

Benefits & Applications of Space Technology

The space industry has a crucial role in implementing innovative solutions in several sectors, such as telecommunication, healthcare, agriculture, defence, and others. As the 2nd largest telecommunication industry in the world, India boasts a staggering 1.17 Bn subscribers. But India’s space technology isn’t solely focused on telecommunications. Satellites and space tech in India also derive and apply space data to medicine, education, and disaster management.

Launched in 2001, the ISRO Telemedicine pilot project integrated two Apollo hospitals, one in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and one in the rural village of Aragonda in Andhra Pradesh. The integration enabled the rural hospital’s technical support and monitoring facilities to optimise their cardiology, radiology, and pathology departments. 

EDUSAT, India’s first thematic satellite, was launched exclusively to deliver interactive education via web-based instructions, one-way TV broadcasts, and video conferencing to enhance effective curriculum-based learning, teacher training, access to quality resources & more. Since its pilot in 2004, EDUSAT has had more than 300 education terminals nationwide. 

India, as a member of the COSPAS-SARSAT programme, is part of the international coalition that provides search and rescue assistance, distress alerts, and position location data and services through its Low Earth Orbit Search And Rescue (LEOSAR) satellite system.

Moreover, the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), with various data centres and agencies under its aegis, is actively engaged in both monitoring natural disasters and offering aid and support to victims and survivors.

Indian satellites also have remote sensing applications to monitor and enhance agriculture, sustainable land use, and conservation of non-renewable resources. They also serve Earth observational applications, data, and research that ISRO under the DoS and the MEA conscientiously draw on to guide growth, sustainability, and exploration guidelines.


India’s space sector is at a pivotal juncture. With a rich history of innovation — even at a cost less than Hollywood movies — a booming private sector and a supportive regulatory environment, the nation is poised for a significant leap forward. 

By harnessing the collective potential of ISRO, NSIL, IN-SPACe, and its thriving startup ecosystem, India can not only become a major player in the global space economy but also unlock transformative applications for its citizens and the world. The final frontier beckons and India appears well-equipped to answer its call.

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