Today, nations are dependent on outer space assets for a wide array of functions in both civilian and military domains. The number of players (state and non-state) utilising outer space for these purposes is set to increase dramatically making it congested, potentially leading to conflicts and accidents. Issues such as space debris, arms race in space, radio frequency interference are also likely to become impediments for the long-term sustainability of outer space. These factors underline the need to strengthen existing arms control measures while establishing norms for responsible behaviour in outer space. Therefore, it is imperative to create global platforms for exchanging views on these issues and make workable recommendations.

Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American woman in space, was part of a growing trend of international cooperation in outer space between India and the United States of America. Her research represents cross-cultural efforts on behalf of all mankind for the betterment of life on Earth and our understanding of outer space. Her tragic accident on board the Columbia Space Shuttle reminds us that the stakes are very high when it comes to outer space activities, but brave individuals like Kalpana Chawla exemplify the belief that the rewards outweigh the dangers. Her accomplishments further prove that traditional barriers such as nationality and gender are giving way to closer ties between people all across the globe. Indeed, India and the United States have continued expanding their cooperative efforts to reach for a broad vision of international human space activities.

In honour of Ms. Chawla, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) proposes to hold an annual dialogue that will highlight the success of India’s cooperation with all the major spacefaring powers in space activities and to discuss the growing socio-political challenges on Earth that must still be overcome in order to expand on the example set by Ms. Chawla.

Panel 1: Space Finance

Access to finance including government procurement mechanisms and export credit is becoming important issues for debate. Regulation, examining the regulatory environment for the satellite and space industry, especially operators, is also a key theme. Both finance and regulations focus on mechanisms to stimulate growth and investment; identification, mitigation and removal of regulatory barriers to growth are also important in this context.

• Facilitating and attracting investment: Connecting industry players (particularly SMEs) with the financial community; matching industry players with the right investors

• Identifying regulatory barriers and other impediments to growth: Working to create a friendly and competitive regulatory environment offering solutions to industry players and encouraging and supporting exporters in areas of finance and regulation

• Is the space insurance market sufficiently innovative, adaptable, competitive and financially sound to bear adverse loss experience and the uncertainties of the financial markets in the global economy?

• How to cover space debris and space weather? How to rationalise the evaluation of the risks and mechanisms to reduce it?

• Can space insurance intellectually borrow from aviation insurance?

• What do these entail for India’s space programme?

Panel 2: India’s Private Players — NewSpace, SMEs and Established Players

The Indian Space Research Organisation is undertaking steps to increase the available satellite capacity, launch frequency and capabilities. It has also decided to let the industry build satellites as well as launch vehicles, ultimately realising a completely industry built mission. These processes raise as many opportunities as doubts and challenges on the actual mechanism of building such a capability. Entrepreneurs in this industry have developed many products and downstream applications that could be boosted in the domestic and international markets with help from governments or investors. The private industry is also willing to better market India’s launch capabilities and offer space services using leased bandwidth. These and many other issues require a broad discussion on policy impediments to solving them.

Panel 3: Satellite Internet for India

India, which has the fastest growing economy and young workforce, is struggling to bridge the ‘digital divide.’ By June 2016, only 462 million (39% of the total population) have been connected to the internet. It has been estimated that India could add an extra $1 trillion to its Gross Domestic Product by 2020 if India were to achieve 100 percent internet connectivity. Satellite internet can plug many of the gaps and vulnerabilities apparent in other means of providing internet across the country. An Indian telecom major has invested in an American idea of orbiting hundreds of satellites for providing global internet as against depending on the geostationary satellites. The latency and inherent maintenance costs are two of the major aspects that would determine this debate. ISRO intends to launch a high throughput satellite (HTS) for satellite internet in early 2017. However, India is not in a position to meet the rising demand by relying completely on its own capacity. This situation therefore calls for a debate on the way forward for digitally connecting more than a billion people.

• What are the imperatives driving digital economy and the role of internet in facilitating such an economy?

• How will satellites enable last mile connectivity? What are the different connectivity architectures (trade-offs between LEO and GEO satellites; using mobile towers)?

• Does India possess own satellite capacity to facilitate such architectures? What is ISRO’s vision in this domain?

• Does an immediate need exist to secure commercial satellite bandwidth, and if so, the policy challenges?

• What is the impact of increasing demand for satellite internet on satellite manufacturing and launch vehicle markets? Is India sufficiently geared to tap this market?

Panel 4: Emerging Space Actors

Once an exclusive domain of two or three advanced countries, outer space has now become a critical medium to achieve economic and development objectives by the developing countries of the Global South. The Asian, African and Latin American countries are taking steps to launch communications and earth observation satellites with efforts to indigenise space technology. This emerging situation is offering new opportunities as well as challenges. The expanding market in these countries is creating new jobs, boosting innovation and offering better solutions to existing social challenges. However, it is also imperative to ensure that these technologies are used for peaceful purposes only. Mitigating space debris, coordinating orbital position allotment as well as ensuring non-interference in other’s spectrum are some of the key challenges lying ahead of global spacefaring and aspiring countries.

• What is the rationale for emerging space programmes?

• What are the various opportunities and challenges?

• Do emerging space programmes incorporate long-term sustainability of outer space measures?

• Do current international norms and treaties provide for cooperation between established and emerging spacefaring countries?

• What are India’s strengths and challenges to work with the emerging space countries?

Panel 5: Current and Evolving Challenges to Space Sustainability

The emerging enthusiasm of developing countries as well as entrepreneurs in spacefaring countries is posing new challenges to outer space sustainability. Allocation and protection of spectrum, competition for orbital slots and impending space debris problem as a result of distributed architecture are some of the challenges. In addition, cyber security of space assets is increasingly a concern of both state and private players. Meanwhile, state actors are experimenting with counter-space technologies such as directed energy weapons or have inherent anti-satellite applications like the robotic arm. A comprehensive assessment of these threats is imperative to not only understand the risks but also to inform the discussions at the United Nations and other multilateral bodies to prevent such threats.

• What are the emerging threats to outer space assets, particularly focusing on emerging technologies are dual-use or highly adaptive?

• How feasible is it to develop a global space situational awareness (SSA) network by responsible states for detecting unwarranted activities in outer space? Can like-minded countries combine efforts to expand the coverage?

• What are the space sustainability measures that can be undertaken by bothestablished spacefaring nations and emerging space players without compromising the peaceful development objectives?

• What is the impact of measures such as Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty in the development of anti-satellite weapons?

Panel 6: Collective Governance of the Global Commons

With outer space becoming more congested and contested with the expansion of the sector with both new space actors and disruptive technologies, the need for international norm building is gaining more traction. The UN that has once spearheaded setting up of international norms for peaceful uses of outer space is debating the credibility of the Cold War era mechanisms in sustaining the sanctity of this global commons. Meanwhile, the private space industry has emerged as a powerful actor and it is important to examine their potential role in the development of norms. The three major initiatives – the International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities, the COPUOS Working Group on the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, and the Group of Governmental Experts on transparency and confidence building measures are yet to make any substantial progress. There is an urgent need to energise the debate on these issues so as to effectively stem harmful effects and ensure sustainability of outer space.

• Whether the existing norms and treaties are effective in facilitating innovation while deterring potential challenges and threats?

• How do we ensure a more comprehensive platform debating both the peaceful uses and security-related aspects rather than in compartmentalised fashion as is done today?

• Should the existing norms and treaties be reviewed and tweaked to meet the contemporary challenges or they be disbanded for new initiatives?

• What are India’s strengths and imperatives for undertaking a more pro-active role in norm building?

Panel 7: Transponder Capacity for Broadcasting and Broadband over India

The demand for direct TV broadcasting and satellite internet services is fast rising in India. In addition, the central and state governments of India are also increasingly seeking satellite services in planning and execution of various developmental initiatives. But the available Indian transponder capacity falls short of this demand. And the process adopted for leasing capacity from commercial satellites remains cumbersome. The current policy is ambiguous with respect to transparency in contractual terms and at times it takes anywhere between three to nine months for gaining regulatory approvals. Immediate policy attention is required to clearing these hurdles by adopting a streamlined transponder policy. India’s satellite industry stands at the cusp of unprecedented growth opportunities driven by the industry trends and this requires a viable regulatory policy to facilitate this growth.

• What are the current and future trends in India’s satellite broadcasting and broadband services? What are the imperatives driving this trend?

• What is ISRO’s operational and planned capacity to cater to this demand?

• What are the impediments in India’s commercial satellite capacity policy?

• What clear policy recommendations that can be made in this regard?

Panel 8: Making the Case for India’s National Space Policy

There is a general rising demand for satellite and launch services across the world. The developing countries in the global south are looking towards space services for national development while the availability of commercial off-the-shelf components is fostering entrepreneurial growth. India too is in the midst of this growing demand for better satellite services. Alongside the developmental issues, space technology also needs to ensure India’s national security. ISRO has started various initiatives to meet this domestic and international demand through traditional business and innovative technological solutions. There is greater scope for the inclusion of private sector in India’s space programme to succeed in these initiatives. However, the absence of a declared all-inclusive national space policy is a big hurdle. Therefore, a debate that could contribute to the formulation of a broader national space policy as well as sector-specific policies that would act as enablers for a more efficient pursuit of outer space exploration is required.

• What are the existing space policy hurdles preventing India from expanding its market as well as providing better satellite services within the country?

• Why a national space policy must be outlined and declared? Experience from other major spacefaring powers.

• What are the big themes and components that must be addressed in a national space policy?

Panel 9: Derivatives from Space

Weather forecasting, navigation and geographical information systems are three key technological elements enabling India’s economic growth and development. India is highly dependent on monsoon rains for food production but the cyclones also cause high damage to national infrastructure. Prompt decision-making on crop cultivation as well as natural disaster mitigation requires accurate, near real-time information of the developing weather conditions. The positioning and navigation systems provide critical information during these processes in addition to help transport goods across the country and the world. The geographical information systems integrate data from various sources including the weather systems to inform infrastructure build-up that could least disturb the local ecosystem. As such, these systems are interconnected and are essential elements of India’s growth story.

• What is the existing capacity of India in these three domains to meet the national requirements?

• What are the measures required to seamlessly integrate these three domains?

• What is the status of commercial industry in these domains and their success stories?

• What policy changes need to be done for enabling a better industry system in India for building applications and dissemination of data?

Panel 10: Role of Satellites during HA/DR Contingencies

The availability of open source and commercial satellite images along with satellite communications is proving critical for relief agencies like the International Committee of the Red Cross. The satellite services are enabling humanitarian organisations to assess the impact of destruction and movement of displaced people during these situations. The study of conflicts in Sudan, Rwanda, Syria etc. highlight the need as well as the efficiency of satellite images in damage assessment and aiding relief amid armed conflicts. The satellite images are also emerging key evidence to assess violations of cease fire agreements and humanitarian law in conflict zones. Meanwhile, the procurement of satellite communications and images is critical for mounting relief operations across the Asia-Pacific, proclaimed to be the ring of natural disasters. However, national regulations and disconnect between the relevant players involved in Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) contingencies remain as roadblocks to effective relief operations.

• What specific roles satellites play during HA/DR contingencies?

• What are the experiences of humanitarian organisations in procuring satellite services? Whether such procurement led to improving the efficiency of disaster assessment and relief operations?

• What are the barriers to acquiring satellite services in a more seamless fashion?

• What might be the unintended negative consequences of these activities for people’s security, and how to avoid or minimise these consequences? Could the activities inadvertently empower or strengthen the position of armed groups or other actors?

• Can satellite imagery be perceived as objective evidence for prosecuting breaches of international humanitarian law?

Other Activities

Survey: A survey across space policy communities in gauging perceptions around space security and challenges, commercialisation and role of private sector in India and beyond, role of multilateral organisations and global governance of outer space.


All speakers from the Dialogue will produce papers (3000-4000 words each) based on their presentations. We will aim at multiple outcomes in the form of journal articles, ORF Issue Briefs, ORF Occasional Papers and other similar formats appealing to our partners’ needs. The logic behind these multiple outcomes is to present a comprehensive overview of the contemporary debates in outer space, covering legal, governance, security and commercial aspects.

Potential Participants

We are looking to invite experts and officials from all the major space-faring countries including from within India. Given the broad nature of the themes addressed at the initiative, we will be hosting representatives from governments, international and inter-governmental bodies, private sector entities and experts from think-tanks and academia.


Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is Senior Fellow and Head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiativeat the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. Dr. Rajagopalan joined ORF after a five-yearstint at the National Security Council Secretariat (2003-2007), where she was an Assistant Director.She is the author of four books: Nuclear Security in India (2015), Clashing Titans: Military Strategyand Insecurity Among Asian Great Powers (2012), The Dragon's Fire: Chinese Military Strategy and ItsImplications for Asia (2009), and Uncertain Eagle: US Military Strategy in Asia (2009). She has alsoco-authored and edited five other books, including Awaiting Launch: Perspectives on the Draft ICoCfor Outer Space Activities (2014). Her research articles have appeared in edited volumes, and in peerreviewed journals such as India Review, Strategic Studies Quarterly, Air and Space Power Journal,International Journal of Nuclear Law,Strategic Analysis and CLAWS Journal. She has also contributedessays to newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, Times of India, Hindustan Times, EconomicTimes and Pioneer. She has been a speaker at international fora including the UN COPUOS (Vienna),Conference on Disarmament (Geneva), UNIDIR (Geneva), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and theEuropean Union.
Phones: +91 981891568

Vidya Sagar Reddy Avuthu

Vidya Sagar Reddy is a Research Assistant with ORF's Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative. His researc interests are technological capabilities of major space-faring nations, civilian and military applications of space assets, human spaceflight and planetary exploration. He is also interested in assessing strategic implications of various geopolitical and military developments. Vidya completed his MA in Geopolitics and International Relations from Manipal University in 2015. His MA dissertation was titled "China’s Emerging Asymmetric Warfare Capabilities and Its Implications.” He concluded a two-month internship at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a Master in Space Systems Engineering.
Phone: +91 9948522335


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