Over the past decade the steps India has taken to methodically build a unique set of digital public assets is steadily making the country more efficient – see our blog https://marcellus.in/blogs/from-aadhaar-to-ondc-indias-methodical-build-of-digital-assets-creates-competitive-advantages/ In this context that the Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO’s, remarkable decision to open up its knowledge, its IP and its platform to startups is very exciting as it promises to add another dimension to the “India Stack’.

Historically, India and ISRO have been known for low-cost satellite launch services which they were happy to provide ‘for hire’ to third parties. However, as this piece in the ET explains, now the ISRO is going much further: “….sometime in June 2020…the Department of Space decided to set up an independent authorising body to vet private sector applications and enable startups to use the ISRO’s facilities.
Startups could test, consult with ISRO scientists on product development and research and get ready launchpads….Last month, Hyderabad based Skyroot launched the first-ever privately built rocket from ISRO’s Sriharikota launch centre. Former ISRO scientists and engineers banded together to create smaller launch vehicles or dedicated rides to space….”

This low cost yet high-quality space tech ecosystem that is being created around ISRO has the potential to disrupt the $450bn global space economy where India presently has a “very small contribution of 2%.” By making the launch itself cheap and then – on top of that – making the satellite at low cost, Indian startups are being able to target business opportunities that were hitherto deemed commercially unviable (eg. monitoring pests in a farmer’s field via satellite) and being able to build a revenue model similar to a software subscription company like, say, Salesforce.

For example, earlier this year, Awais Ahmed’s startup Pixxel sent into orbit its demo satellite. Ultimately the goal is for “…Pixxel’s six-satellite commercial constellation…to beam down saleable data which would offer a rich view into a variety of application from crop damage to illegal mining to oil pipeline bursts to irrigation trends….Pixxel says that its demo satellites and already paying off for thefront loaded investments that went into making them.” Whilst in the conventional scheme of things it is easy to moan and whinge about the deficiencies of the Indian Government, when it comes to this unique space tech ecosystem that is emerging around ISRO, the Government of India deserves credit: “Opening up ISRO’s facilities to the private sector was an oft-debated topic but the directive came from Prime Minister Modi.”

The ET quotes former ISRO chairperson K Sivan as saying “I followed up on the PM’s’ intent by executing his vision – from preparing the Cabinet note in consultation with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the structure of IN-Space, the infrastructure sharing and other salient features of the idea.”

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