Event ReportsPublished on Mar 14, 2016
Shaping the debate on India’s National Space Policy

Observer Research Foundation organised the second edition of ORF Kalpana Chawla Annual Space Policy Dialogue on February 24-26, 2016. This edition was graced by policy-makers, experts, stake-holders besides the Indian origin US astronaut Capt. Sunita Williams and also Kalpana Chawla’s father, Mr. B.L. Chawla.

This Dialogue is intended to serve as a platform for all the different stake-holders viz., government, political, legal, security, industry and academia to discuss and debate various outstanding issues pertaining to India’s future space ambitions and disparities in the national space policy. So, the annual Dialogue is aptly dedicated to Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla.

The Dialogue was inaugurated by Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament, India and Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Member, NITI Aayog and former secretary, Defence R&D. Dr. Saraswat delivered a special address highlighting the precarious nature of outer space security with the proliferation of anti-satellite weapons and India’s policy options in this environment. Dr. Tharoor summarized the advances made in India’s space programme from its inception to the present day. He added that the Mars Orbiter Mission has elevated the technological progress of the ISRO and international prestige for India.

Their observations and remarks set the ground for debating and discussing relevant space policy issues segregated into eight panel discussions viz., the emerging threats in outer space, state of play of the outer space regime, regional and international cooperation, increasing private sector participation in India’s space programme, mapping the scope of downstream applications, exploring the potential of satellites for Digital India and the role of policy in transponder availability for broadcasting & broadband sectors.

The last panel aptly titled “Shaping the Debate on India’s National Space Policy” featured presentations from experts representing the political, legal, industry, military, NewSpace and international aspects of India’s space programme. Moderated by Dr. A. Sivathanu Pillai, presently honorary distinguished professor of ISRO and former chief controller, R&D, DRDO and former CEO & MD of BrahMos Aerospace, this panel effectively argued and made a strong pitch for a national space policy. There were also articulations for greater sector specific policies, including one in the military domain.

As a spotlight speaker, Dr. Sivathanu Pillai also made an incisive presentation on “Leap-frog in Space Industry.” Guided by his experience from successfully running the Indo-Russian joint venture ‘BrahMos Aerospace’ and exalting India’s ancient engineering skills, Dr. Pillai applauded the developments in India’s space programme and highlighted the need to create an all-inclusive space industry ecosystem in which enthusiastic and skilful NewSpace players can also make their contributions.

The Dialogue also hosted the U.S. Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, who summarized the history and current status of India-US space cooperation and set the context for the panel on exploring the potential of satellites for Digital India.  This panel also featured presentations from Team Indus, which is competing in the Google Lunar X Prize to land a probe on the Moon, ViaSat India, Boeing India, Signion Systems and Hughes Network Systems India Ltd. The panel discussed various elements of Digital India initiative and examined the potential for India-US industry collaboration for realizing this initiative.

The Dialogue also featured presentations by Dr. Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator and Dr. James Green, Director, Planetary Science Division of National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA). NASA plans to achieve the goal of human exploration of Mars in three stages viz., Earth Reliant, Proving Ground and Earth Independent. Various technologies are under development for these stages with substantial involvement of private space industry. Dr. Newman emphasized international cooperation as a key to the success of this programme and invited India’s space entities to be part of this endeavour.

Dr. Green followed her presentation by making scientific case for sustained human exploration of Mars. The range of experiments conducted by the use of orbiters, landers and rovers regarding the atmospheric and geological history of Mars helps us identify future threats facing the Earth. These findings also guide biological and technological developments on Earth to foster sustained human presence on Mars.

The valedictory session of this Dialogue was chaired by Mr. Sunjoy Joshi, Director, Observer Research Foundation. It was humbling to see the participation of Mr. B.L. Chawla, father of Kalpana Chawla, sharing with the audience few anecdotes from his daughter’s life representing positive attitude, simplicity and caring personality. He received a standing ovation from the enthralled audience.

Capt. Sunita Williams, who holds a number of records for her daring spacewalks and total time spent onboard the International Space Station, delivered the valedictory address. She reminisced her friendship with Kalpana Chawla and the need to foster enthusiasm about outer space in the younger generations.

Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, head of the space policy initiative at ORF and the chief convenor of this Dialogue, expressed her sincere thanks to all the speakers, dignitaries, special guests and participants.

The Dialogue is supported by initiative partners – Secure World Foundation, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Society of Satellite Professionals International (India Chapter). Hughes Communications India Ltd., Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), TMT Law Practice and U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC) joined as Dialogue sponsors.

The Dialogue happened in the context of the changing scope, nature and geo-political underpinnings of India’s space programme. The government has decided to utilise space applications for a number of its domestic and international initiatives.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has set its ambitions to augment launch pads, launch capability and capacity, technological innovation and new destinations for exploration. The government incentivised these plans by allotting an increased space budget.

The ISRO has also announced commercialisation of its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, giving private space industry room for growth. The private space industry, particularly the NewSpace, is also enthusiastic to partake in this expanded programme. However, concerns remain across associated industries as to the successful implementation of these plans and initiatives.

This report is prepared by Vidya Sagar Reddy, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

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