State-owned NewSpace creates a flutter among space startups

In early March, the small set of NewSpace entities in the country sat up in disbelief to see a state-run company taking birth in that name although it did not fit the standard definition of their league.

On March 6, the Department of Space (DoS) quietly registered its second commercial entity, NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL), in Bengaluru.

At the time, the small, new age ventures and startups foraying into the space industry were still coming to terms with the news of February 19 that the Union Cabinet had cleared a new business arm for DoS.

Surprise, because DoS already has a commercial venture, Antrix Corporation Limited, which was set up in September 1992 to market the products and services of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

While the government hasn’t said much about NSIL plans since the first announcement, officials in the DoS and ISRO have been trying to figure out how exactly Antrix and NSIL would operate their respective businesses in the common, niche area.

What we do know is that NSIL has an authorised capital of ₹10 crore and a paid up capital of ₹1 crore. And that two senior officials of Antrix — Executive Director D.R. Suma and Director (launch services) D. Radhakrishnan — were moved to NewSpace in March to help the new venture get off the ground.

Board soon

Two senior ISRO officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was still early to talk about the new company. “Currently the department [DoS] is completing statutory formalities such as the formation of a board of 8-10 directors,” one of the officials said. “We would like to do it as quickly as possible. A selection committee will find the Chairman and Managing Director,” the official added.

“Both the companies are there [now]. Their roles and responsibilities will be divided. The new company will basically focus on industry participation. Clarity will emerge as we go forward,” the official observed.

Haze ahead

NewSpace India enters the scene at a time when globally and in India small, low-budget new age ventures, many helmed by young dreamers inspired by entrepreneur Elon Musk's Space Exploration (SpaceX), are vying to turn 21st-century space fantasies into reality.

The new company does have mandates: transfer technology to industry for producing the commercially successful PSLV spacecraft launchers; outsource assembly of small satellites and the upcoming Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV). It would also be tasked to “commercially exploit the R&D work done by ISRO centres and DoS constituents”.

“A lot of new [business] activities are cropping up, such as customer satellites, spinoff technologies, industry participation, production partners, ground stations, and satellite data sales,” the official said.

Some serving and former DoS associates apprehend that NSIL may one day cannibalise Antrix and reduce it to an idle shell. They contend that the government may have created NSIL just to erase an eight-year-old blot and resultant liabilities associated with Antrix’s cancelled Devas contract. The ISRO official, however, ruled out any such eventuality, asserting that Antrix’s expertise, accumulated over decades, could not be recreated or transferred overnight. “Whatever Antrix has been doing it will continue to do. It has been doing well in [getting contracts for] commercial launches and will continue it.”

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 8:39:03 AM |

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