(Bloomberg) -- India’s national space program has notched up some impressive accomplishments, such as the first landing near the south pole of the moon last year, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi this week announced the names of four Indian astronauts for the country’s first crewed mission in 2025.

But the private sector hasn’t had the same level of success, with Indian startups trailing their counterparts in China. Eager to turn that around ahead of national elections expected in April and May, Modi’s cabinet last week approved rules designed to encourage foreign investment in rocket and satellite manufacturing.

That’s just the beginning, according to one of Modi’s top space officials. The government is finalizing a sweeping set of regulations for the country’s burgeoning space sector, said Pawan Goenka, chairman of the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre, known as IN-SPACe.

“Everything will be defined: What can be done, what restrictions there will be, authorization processes, vendor policy, supply chain management and other factors,” Goenka said in an interview with Bloomberg News. 

 

 

While the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is one of the top national space agencies in the world, the private sector was slow to develop because the government allowed only a few vendors and manufacturers to participate. Over the past five years, though, Modi’s government made several policy changes to open up the space industry to the private sector.

The 150-page comprehensive “norms, guideline and procedure” document will provide the private sector with guidelines and guardrails, Goenka said.

That could remove uncertainty for local companies seeking to expand in rocket manufacturing, satellite software and other space services, according to AK Bhatt, director general of the Indian Space Association. The new policy promises to simplify the approval process by reducing the number of government agencies that need to sign off on projects, he said.

“The regulations could bring a single-window clearance for all companies and players interested in space,” said Bhatt. “The industry needs clarity on the processes for entering into rocket manufacturing and satellite services.” 

One company already taking advantage of the new opportunities is Larsen & Toubro Ltd. The Mumbai-based group is a partner with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. in a consortium that won a contract in 2022 to build five Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles, a 44-meter-high (144 feet) rocket with a maximum payload of 1.75 metric tons that for three decades has been a workhorse for ISRO.

The first PSLV made with private-sector involvement is on schedule to be delivered in mid-2024.

Other companies should expect to get opportunities, too, said Goenka. His agency last year began soliciting bids for private companies to manufacture another rocket, the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle, designed by ISRO to launch payloads weighing as much as 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds).

The government also wants companies involved in the manufacturing of India’s biggest rocket, the 52-meter-high Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, he said.

Since 2020, Indian space startups have collectively raised $5.1 billion in equity funding, according to New York-based venture capital firm Space Capital. One of the top startups, Skyroot Aerospace Pvt. Ltd., conducted the first sub-orbital launch by a private sector Indian company in 2022 and the Hyderabad-headquartered company has plans for an orbital launch this year. Another, Agnikul Cosmos, has said it will have the maiden launch of its rocket this month.

Read More: Corporate Space Race Spawns the Next Wave of Startups in India

While several new Chinese companies have sent rockets into orbit, no Indian startup has managed that so far. China also has far more launches, by both state-owned and private companies: Since the start of 2020, India has launched only 16 space missions compared to 226 by China, according to Virginia-based analytics and engineering firm Bryce Space and Technology.

ISRO is trying to help the startups by easing launch bottlenecks.

The agency has two launchpads at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and is building a second launch complex in Kulasekarapattinam, located nearly 180 kilometers (112 miles) from the southernmost tip of the country. Scheduled to open next year, the new site will be for both government and commercial satellite launches, according to Goenka. 

“Once the second launch complex is ready, we will have the capacity to launch one rocket a week,” he said.

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