Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Nasa chief's visit spotlights India's space tech potential

The visit of Bill Nelson will help India's space department officials and its US counterpart take stock of the progress on joint projects, including NISAR, the first spacecraft in the Earth Observatory System being developed by Nasa

Harichandan Arakali
Published: Nov 27, 2023 02:11:31 PM IST
Updated: Nov 27, 2023 03:50:54 PM IST

Nasa chief's visit spotlights India's space tech potentialBill Nelson, Nasa’s Administrator Image: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
 
US space agency Nasa’s Administrator Bill Nelson is in India today to meet top government and Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) officials, as both countries look to deepen their space exploration and scientific research partnership.
 
The visit by Nelson, a former US senator, “fulfills a commitment through the US and India initiative on critical and emerging technology spearheaded by President Joe Biden,” Nasa said in a press release on November 24.
 

Nelson was appointed as the 14th Nasa administrator in May 2021. During this visit to India, he is expected visit several locations, including the Bengaluru-based facilities where the NISAR spacecraft, a joint Earth-observing mission between Nasa and the Isro, is undergoing testing and integration for launch in 2024.
 
NISAR is short for NASA ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar. The first satellite mission between Nasa and Isro, it is an Earth-observing instrument, the first in the Earth System Observatory, which was announced by Nasa last year.
 
The observatory will be put in space via five satellite missions, including Nisar, which is set for launch next year. The observatory will measure Earth’s changing ecosystems, dynamic surfaces, and ice masses providing information about biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise, and groundwater, key information to guide efforts related to climate change, hazard mitigation, agriculture, and so on.
 
Senator Nelson is also expected to meet students to discuss STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education and how they can participate in the Artemis program, Nasa’s initiative to return humans to the Moon and make it a launchpad for missions to Mars.
 
The Nasa chief is also expected to travel to UAE during this trip to participate in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference. This will be the first time a Nasa administrator will have attended the conference, according to Nasa’s press release.

Nasa chief's visit spotlights India's space tech potential
 
Over the last few years, India has opened up its space efforts to private industry and startups and established the institutional infrastructure and policies to foster this ecosystem. The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) is tasked with expanding the commercialization of India’s space tech capabilities.

Also read: Blast off: The space economy takes flight
 
In April, the government also released India’s space policy, to promote a comprehensive approach to the space economy opportunity ahead.The government’s estimate projects India’s space market to be worth $40 billion in 2030. This could go as high as $100 billion, the consultancy Arthur D Little says, if investments and efforts in certain focus areas are stepped up.
 
Meanwhile, OneWeb India, the local subsidiary of low-earth orbit operator Eutelsat OneWeb, said last week, it had become the first company to receive India’s go-ahead to launch its commercial satellite broadband services. Bharti Airtel owns about 21 percent of UK-based OneWeb, which was recently merged with Europe’s Eutelsat.
 
Other multinational companies, including billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which operates the Starlink satellite broadband business, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’s project Kuiper, which are all putting large low earth orbit satellite constellations in space are also expected to offer to their services in India.
 
And JioSpaceFiber, part of the Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries, is also in the race to offer its own satellite-based internet services in the country soon.
 
On the startups front, Indian space tech startups have gone from raising only $35 million in funding between 2010 and 2019, to $28 million in 2020 to $96 million in 2021 and $112 million in 2022, according to Tracxn, a private markets intelligence provider.
 
This year, the sector has attracted $62 million in funding as of August, according to Tracxn. Indian space startups are developing a range of technologies and products, including hyperspectral imaging, 3D-printed rocket engines, satellite propulsion systems and sustainable less toxic rocket fuels.