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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Awaiting lift-off into the Second Space Age


Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of national and international importance(Space programmes, Sputnik 1, Vikram S rocket, non-proliferation etc
  • Mains GS Paper II: Science and technology, development and application, Development in the field of space and issues related to it etc



  • The Space Age began in 1957 with the launch of satellite Sputnik 1, and in 1961, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the world’s first person in space.
    • Neil Armstrong made history by walking on the moon in 1969.




Second Space Age:

  • There is no precise date for its beginning, the contrast in today’s space domain is stark.
  • The origins of the Second Space Age can be traced to the Internet.
  • In India, the process began accelerating as the 1990s saw the emergence of private TV channels, together with cable TV followed by direct-to-home transmissions.
  • The demand for satellite transponders and ground-based services exploded.
  • Majority actors in space are private companies.
  • Last year, there were 180 rocket/space launches:
    • 61 by SpaceX
  • 90% of global space launches since 2020 are by and for the private sector.


Background of space technology development:

  • Between the 1950s to 1991, a period dominated by the Cold War
    • 60 to 120 space launches took place annually
    • 93% of these were by the United States and the erstwhile USSR


India’s space journey:

  • India made an entry into the First Space Age in the 1960s.
  • The first sounding rocket, a U.S. supplied Nike-Apache, was launched at Thumba (Kerala) in 1963.
  • In 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was set up.
  • ISRO’s first major project was Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) that involved leasing a S. satellite in 1975-76 for educational outreach across 2,400 villages covering five million people.
  • Satellite technology was a new mass communication tool.
    • This led to the INSAT series in the 1980s, followed by GSAT
    • It provided the backbone for the country’s tele-communication and broadcasting infrastructure.
  • Remote sensing capability development: The use of space-based imagery for:
    • weather forecasting
    • resource mapping of forests
    • analyzing agricultural yields
    • groundwater and watersheds,
    • fisheries
    • urban management.
  • Oceansat and Cartosat series: The field of satellite-aided navigation emerged later
    • It began with GAGAN, a joint project between ISRO and the Airports Authority of India
      • to augment Global Positioning System (GPS) coverage of the region
      • improve air traffic management over Indian airspace.
      • Expanded to a regional navigation satellite system called Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).
    • Development of satellite launch capabilities: Beginning with the SLV-1 in the 1980s
    • ISRO developed the PSLV series that has become its workhorse with over 50 successful launches.


Space potential:

  • The last 15 years witnessed another transformation
    • India was in lockstep with the developed world.
  • The age of mobile telephony, followed by smartphones shows how data-rich society India is.
  • Broadband, OTT and now 5G promise a double-digit annual growth in demand for satellite-based services.
  • In 2020, the global space economy was estimated at $450 billion, growing to $600 billion by 2025.
  • The Indian space economy, estimated at $6 billion in 2020, is expected to be $13 billion by 2025.
  • The Indian space industry could easily exceed $60 billion by 2030, directly creating more than two lakh jobs.
  • End-user revenue, only a fifth is generated by the government.
  • Media and entertainment account for 26% of India’s space economy
  • Consumer and retail services account for another 21%.
  • In terms of space activities,
    • downstream activities such as satellite services and associated ground segment are dominant
      • Accounting for over 70% of India’s space economy
    • Upstream activities of satellite manufacturing and launch services contribute the smaller share.
    • India has been an early adopter of digital app-based services.


Role of Private sector:

  • According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA): There are 8,261 satellites in orbit, of which nearly 5,000 are active.
  • Till 2010, about 60 to 100 satellites were launched annually.
    • In 2020, 1,283 satellites were launched.
  • Starlink operates a constellation of over 3,500 satellites and has a million paying customers.
  • Starlink and OneWeb (in which Airtel has a stake) project constellations of 40,000 satellites each.
  • Amazon has launched Project Kuiper to bring low-latency broadband connectivity around the globe.


Indian Private Sector:

  • The Indian private sector is responding to the demands of the Second Space Age.
  • From $3 million in 2018, it doubled in 2019 and crossed $65 million in 2021.


Role of ISRO:

  • ISRO manages four to five launches annually.
  • It manages 53 operational satellites21 for communication, 21 for earth observation, eight for navigation and the remaining as scientific experimental satellites (China operates 541).
  • ISRO has missions such as Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan and Gaganyaan (manned space mission).
  • ISRO has always been an open organization that has worked closely with the Indian private sector.
  • Start-ups: Their revenue stream depends on space-related activities and they need a different relationship with ISRO and government.
  • ISRO today is the operator, user, service provider, licensor, rule maker and also an incubator.


Way Forward

  • ISRO has steered India through the First Space Age and needs to do what it can do best now within its resources and its high-quality manpower — research.
  • commercializing the PSLV and SSLV launch services and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) was set up to replace Antrix.
  • The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) was set up in 2020 as a single-window-clearance for the private sector.
    • However, it is unclear whether it will emerge as the licensing authority or a regulator.
    • An Indian Space Association (ISpA) was created as an industry association.
  • Need of legislation (a space activities act): This provides the legal grounding that policy papers lack.
    • It helps set up a regulatory authority and create an enabling environment for raising venture capital funding into the Indian space start-up industry.
  • The window of opportunity for India to join the Second Space Age exists and it should not be lost.
  • The country’s private sector has the talent and experience to shorten that distance if India creates the enabling policy environment.



Discuss India’s achievements in the field of Space Science and Technology. How the application of this technology has helped India in its socio-economic development?(UPSC 2016) (200 WORDS, 10 MARKS)