Space technology is revolutionising the economic and social structures on Earth. The growing number of entrepreneurs utilising data derived from satellites for providing financial, technological, legal and security solutions demonstrate the limitless potential of space technology for benefitting societies. There are commercial actors manufacturing, launching and maintaining satellites, particularly small satellites.

Even as outer space is becoming democratised, the longstanding issues of space security and sustainability remains. In fact, these issues have become much complex owing to the increasing number of commercial actors as well as developing countries trying to become spacefaring nations. Inadvertent transfers of dual-use technology and increasing cyber capabilities are threatening global norms on outer space. These norms, which are mostly developed during the Cold War, are yet to catch up with the reality.

Therefore, Observer Research Foundation (ORF) holds ORF Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue gathering executives, policymakers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and academicians to discuss the disruptive trends from the current state of space activities. This platform is unique in advocating the need for a national space policy for India to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in security, civil and commercial space applications. Through an engaging dialogue on various themes and networking opportunities, participants will discover new ideas from across traditional and non-traditional space actors.

This Dialogue is initiated in the memory of Dr. Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian-American woman in space. She was part of the growing trend of international cooperation in outer space between India and the United States. 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 space exploration but exemplifying 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.

In honour of Dr. Chawla, ORF holds this annual dialogue highlighting the success of India’s cooperation with all the major spacefaring nations and to discuss ways to mitigate the socio-political challenges on Earth that must still be overcome.

Panel 1: Space and Telecommunications

The demand for direct TV broadcasting and satellite internet services is rising in India. In addition, the government is implementing Digital India initiative that requires higher satellite communications capacity. However, the available Indian transponder capacity falls short of this demand while the process of acquiring foreign transponders remains cumbersome. Moreover, there is advent of satellite internet that requires infrastructure upgrade in space either in geostationary or low earth orbit. This has a negative effect on India’s GDP growth. Therefore, immediate policy attention is required to clearing these hurdles by adopting a streamlined transponder policy.

• 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?

• Would geostationary or low earth orbit constellations offer better service?

• What is the effectiveness of current regulatory framework for satellite broadcasting and broadband?

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

Panel 2: Emerging Space Actors

Once an exclusive domain of advanced countries, outer space has now become a critical medium to achieve economic and development objectives of developing countries. UAE, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia etc. are taking steps to launch communications and earth observation satellites with efforts to indigenise space technology. The advanced spacefaring nations are pursuing advances in in-space manufacturing, space mining and building of space habitats. This emerging situation is offering new opportunities as well as challenges. The expanding market in developing countries is creating new jobs, boosting innovation and offering better solutions to existing societal challenges. However, it is also imperative to ensure that these technologies are used for peaceful purposes.

• What is the rationale for emerging space programmes? What are the various opportunities and challenges?

• What are the next generation space activities? (On-orbit servicing, mining, habitat, manufacturing)

• Are current international norms and treaties capable of regulating these advances and promote cooperation between established and emerging actors?

Panel 3: Space Stability and Sustainability

Outer space environment is becoming very complex and is changing rapidly because of new technologies and increasing access to outer space. Congestion in terms of number of satellites and spectrum allocation is increasing. In addition, there are growing threats to space systems. 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.

• What are impending threats to the space environment? How to detect and characterise the threats?

• What is the current state of international cooperation in sharing space situational awareness data?

• What are the contingency measures that can be adopted for security of space assets?

Panel 4: Space Security

Various state actors are developing space technologies such as the robotic arm which possess latent anti-satellite applications in addition to the development of a new array of anti-satellite weapons such as lasers. 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 counter-space capabilities particularly in the Asia-Pacific context?

• What are the strategic consequences of China’s counter-space capabilities/ activities?

• What are the implications and strategic options for India?

• Can like-minded countries come together for a distributed, global surveillance and information sharing architecture?

Panel 5: Multilateral Governance Architecture

Outer space is becoming more congested and contested with increasing new space actors and advances in disruptive technologies. The need for international norm building is gaining more traction in this situation. The UN has once spearheaded setting up of international norms for peaceful uses of outer space. However, it is worth debating the credibility of the Cold War era mechanisms in sustaining the sanctity of space. 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 are yet to make any substantial progress.

• What are the significant changes in outer space since passing of space treaties during the Cold War?

• How can proliferation of space technologies be stemmed through multilateral measures? (North Korea - Role of MTCR)

• Is there a requirement to bring about greater synergy between existing mechanisms such as COPUOS and CD, for instance? Or should we look for a non-UN approach?

Panel 6: Legal Issues and Militarisation of Space

Outer space has become an arena for demonstrating advances in space technology. Advanced space powers such as the United States, Russia and China have already demonstrated anti-satellite weapons which are ground launched while the Cold War gave birth to the idea of placing weapons in outer space. The dual-use nature of space technologies means outer space has the potential to become weaponised and in any case, affects international security. The fact that there is a large support base regarding the need for a specific treaty on the prevention of an arms race in space, however, changes in in both use of space and types of space actors raises questions about the applicability of the existing legal regime. In this context, there is a need for debating the advances in space militarisation and the dangers of space weaponisation with the aim to keep outer space safe, secure and sustainable.

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

• What is the effectiveness of existing legal regime to prevent space weaponisation?

• What is the perception of various states, particularly advanced space powers, regarding these debates?

• What are the roadblocks for framing a new treaty that could be more effective in prevention of arms race in outer space?

• What is the role played by commercial and emerging state actors in this scenario?

Panel 7: Small Satellites: Potential, Challenges and Risks

Satellite industry has undergone a paradigm shift over the last decade with small satellites becoming mainstream globally. Until recently small satellites were a segment mostly dominated by educational/research institutions and earth imaging startups, providing high resolution imagery at a fraction of the cost offered by traditional players. The recent voice call using nano-satellites has demonstrated the viability of small satellites for commercial applications other than Earth imaging. With major aerospace companies foraying into small satellite market, this industry is at an inflection point. About 2,400 small satellites are predicted to be launched in the next six years. Although ISRO has successfully launched nano-satellites for foreign players and created world-records, there has not been a single home-grown private small satellite mission from India. Majority of the small satellite missions from India have been academic in nature and their success rate is poor compared to global counterparts. Small satellite armies are also potential weapons in space based warfare and under consideration of most defense agencies globally. This situation therefore calls for a discussion on the potential of small satellites for commercial applications; the challenges faced by Indian private players and the risks involved with satellite swarms.

• How effective are small satellites as a platform for technology demonstration missions?

• What are the factors driving small satellite constellations globally? How cost effective are small satellites/constellations as compared to traditional assets?

• Do private players in India possess the capability to build and operate small satellites/constellation and compete globally?

• What are the regulatory hurdles in launching and operating small satellites from India? Does the draft version of Space Act address the bottlenecks (if any)?

• What role would small satellites play in future warfare?

Panel 8: The Changing Space Environment

Once an exclusive domain of governmental agencies, outer space has now become open to investments and innovation in a new generation of technologies. In-space manufacturing, space mining, space internet and building of space habitats are some of the projects that essentially mark NewSpace vision. This emerging situation is offering new opportunities as well as challenges. This expanding market is creating new jobs, boosting innovation and offering solutions to existing gaps in infrastructure and resource scarcity. However, it is also imperative to ensure that these business models maintain the sustainability of outer space and uphold international space law.

• What are the next generation NewSpace activities?

• What are the various opportunities and challenges?

• Are current international norms and treaties capable of regulating these advances and promote cooperation between established and emerging actors?

Panel 9: India’s Space Commercialisation Drive

The Indian Space Research Organisation is undertaking steps to increase the available satellite capacity, launch frequency and capabilities. It has also decided to handhold 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 government 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.

• What are various ISRO initiatives involving private industry and the challenges arising from these initiatives?

• What are the new initiatives to build a viable private space industry in India?

• What steps are required to promote entrepreneurship in space services?

• What is the scope and nature of future private space industry?

• Will India liberalise satellite launch and manufacturing enabling independent development?

Panel 10: Indian Space Industry and Propulsion: The Missing Link

India has slowly formed and build capacity in the space sector as over 500 companies, vendors and ancillaries, which cater to ISRO and DRDO, are now coming of age and transforming to technology companies. India also has a thriving Newspace Industry. However, the ventures working on propulsion, rocket or spacecraft struggle to grow because of the lack of clear policy from the Indian government. Important aspects such as explosives licensing and setting up of facilities for manufacturing and testing are restricted by a non-conclusive licensing and approval procedures. If India were to develop private capacity to build, launch and operate spacecraft for meeting future demand, major regulatory reforms are required. India will need a policy that regulates and facilitates all aspects of working with propulsion covering propellants, manufacturing, testing, transportation, trade and use.

• What are the major regulatory challenges in the current licensing regime faced by companies working on rocket propulsion?

• What are the prospects of implementing a liberal policy in the context of the dual use nature of the materials and technologies involved? How can licensing for civilian use be made efficient?

• Whether international norms and treaties are capable of regulating companies and promote cooperation between established and emerging actors for these technologies?


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