Decoded: Ways Indian Space Association can push the limits of exploration
Business Standard|October 14, 2021
Satellite
Satellite-based internet services could also take broadband access to remote areas, which are difficult to link through terrestrial networks

The Indian Space Association (ISpA), an industry body that will promote aerospace and space technologies, was launched on October 11. The founder members include Bharti Airtel’s OneWeb, Larsen & Toubro, Tata Group’s Nelco, MapmyIndia, Walchandnagar Industries, Alpha Design Technologies, Godrej, Hughes India, Ananth Technologies, Azista-BST Aerospace Pvt Ltd, Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Centum Electronics, and Maxar India. The government agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), is also an ISpA member.

What will ISpA do?

It will engage with stakeholders across the space economy and lobby with the government for enabling legislation, and for policies that promote activity in space-related sectors. At the inauguration, the Prime Minis­ter said that draft legislation in these areas was being prepared.

Where are the primary areas where ISpA could make a difference?

Space-related activities have enormous potential for accelerating growth across the broader economy. Isro’s missions have already led to large benefits. India’s communications systems, entertainment options, weather and climate predictions and geo-locational services all depend exclusively on eyes in the sky — satellites.

The global satellite launch market itself represents a big opportunity. ISpA could help develop the capacity to design, build and launch larger satellites for clients all around the world. This would happen more efficiently if there were multiple players competing and pitching in to research this.

Satellite-based internet services could also take broadband access to remote areas, which are difficult to link through terrestrial networks. This is hugely important for the “Digital India” concept to work evenly across the nation.

In addition, new materials developed for space vehicles need to be lightweight, while also being capable of surviving extremes of temperature and radiation. A domestic material sciences industry would find spinoffs in many other industries. Teflon, for example, which is generally used in non-stick cooking ute­n­sils, was developed for heat shields and space suits. Solar energy research would get a boost for sure, since solar po­wer is a must.

What about “new-new” technologies?

Once Nasa and the Soviets started putting humans, plants, animals and microorganisms into space, they rapidly developed a better understanding of biology in unusual environments with variable gravity, high radiation, etc. A range of tools such as portable MRI scanners were developed for space-goers, along with compact lightweight exercise equipment, and remote medical diagnostics software. If Isro and the other ISpA members do decide to launch manned missions, or offer space tourism packages, they will have to develop such technologies to ensure medical care. Instead of importing such equipment, the domestic healthcare industry would then receive access to “Made in India” products.

Space research has also led to extremely good recycling systems, which reprocess organic waste products (urine, faeces, carbon dioxide), and make them fit for re-consumption. Space research has also led to better designs for adult diapers, and more efficient toilets. Some of those water-recycling technologies have been scaled up for urban wastewater treatment at municipal level. Given India’s endemic and growing water shortages, more efficient toilets and better wastewater management and recycling systems would be a very big deal.

What about “blue-sky” technology, which nobody has?

Remote mining in space, establishing long-term colonies or stations on the Moon, on Mars, and factories at Lagrange Points (points in space where the gravitic pull of the Earth and Moon cancel out) are all stated goals of various space entrepreneurs. All these would require developing many new technologies, including autonomous robots, better engines, self-contained habitats, etc. Again, given incentive, there’s no apparent reason why India’s ISpA members couldn’t contribute to such long-term ambitions. As to the monetary rewards, it’s very likely that anybody who cracks the challenges of asteroid mining will become a trillionaire.

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First Published: Thu, October 14 2021. 06:03 IST
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