By Vikrant Rana and Vidhi Oberoi
Chandrayaan-3, India’s third lunar mission, is now well on its way1 to the moon, embarking on a 42-day odyssey filled with challenges and hopes. The spacecraft, in an elliptical orbit, will conduct various tests and calibrations before attempting a soft landing near the South Pole of the moon. While the final procedure of the soft landing garners much attention, it is the journey itself that is fraught with difficulties, akin to Ulysses’ path to Ithaca. This mission holds immense significance for India’s space program, as it represents a major step forward in lunar exploration, contributes to our understanding of the moon, and builds India’s reputation in the global space community.
Before analysing what great leap Chandrayaan-3 is for Indian Space industry, it is prudent to understand how we oversee space, an infinite void beyond earthly jurisdiction.
Roger, we have Touched-Down!
In the international context, India’s participation in moon and space exploration aligns with its status as a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, 1967. This treaty, ratified by India, outlines the principles governing the activities of states in outer space.
The Outer Space Treaty establishes fundamental principles and guidelines for the exploration and use of outer space. The key provisions of the treaty are as follows:
- The principle of the freedom of exploration and use of outer space for all nations. According to this principle, outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is considered the common heritage of all humankind, and no nation can claim sovereignty over them. Specifically, Article II2 of the Outer Space Treaty states “Outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.” This provision ensures that no nation can assert ownership or territorial rights over outer space bodies.
- While nations cannot claim sovereignty over outer space bodies, they are still encouraged to explore and use them for peaceful purposes. The treaty emphasizes cooperation among nations and the sharing of benefits derived from outer space activities. It also requires nations to avoid harmful contamination of space bodies and to conduct activities in a manner that preserves the space environment and protects celestial bodies from harmful interference.
However, it is important to note that the Outer Space Treaty does not explicitly address issues related to private entities or commercial activities in outer space. As private space exploration and commercial ventures increase, there is a growing need for a comprehensive and updated legal framework to govern these activities. India’s involvement in lunar exploration, exemplified by Chandrayaan-3, aligns with its commitment to peaceful space activities and international cooperation. The mission’s scientific outcomes hold immense potential for understanding the formation and composition of the moon, which can provide valuable insights into the history of the solar system. Exploring the moon’s southern hemisphere, with its unique geographical variations and potential volatiles, could have a profound impact on deep space exploration and future commercial activities. The potential for the same can be adjudged by combing through the Indian space market, a nascent but promising sector.
Chandrayaan- A Rocketship to Sectoral Growth
The global space industry is rapidly growing, with an estimated worth of US$350 billion and projected to reach US$550 billion by 2025. However, India’s share in this market is currently estimated at only US$7 billion, accounting for just 2%3 of the global market. The majority of India’s space sector revenue comes from telecommunication, earth observation imagery, and satellite-aided navigation, with DTH television, broadband, and OTT services being major contributors.
Historically, the government-operated Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has dominated the Indian space industry. However, recent policy reforms have opened up the sector to private companies, aiming to encourage their participation and foster a flourishing commercial presence in space. The Indian Space Policy 20234 outlines the objective of enabling, encouraging, and developing the private sector’s involvement in space activities. The policy focuses on:
- Expanding the human understanding of outer space, developing new space technologies, and facilitating greater private sector participation in activities traditionally undertaken by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
- One of the key highlights of the policy is the creation of four entities that will facilitate private sector involvement in space activities. The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (InSPACe) will serve as a single-window clearance and authorization agency for space launches, establishing launch pads, buying and selling satellites, and sharing technologies with non-government entities (NGEs) including private companies.
- New Space India Limited (NSIL) will be responsible for commercializing space technologies and platforms created through public expenditure and facilitating partnerships with the private and public sectors.
- The Department of Space will provide policy guidelines, coordinate international cooperation, and create mechanisms for dispute resolution in space activities.
Chandrayaan-3 represents a significant milestone in this endeavour, as it is a joint project5 between ISRO and the Indian private sector. For the first time, India has collaborated with the private sector on a major space mission, showcasing the government’s commitment to the new Space Policy. The lander, rover, and ground control systems for Chandrayaan-3 were developed by a consortium of Indian companies in collaboration with ISRO laboratories. This collaboration highlights the government’s intent to leverage the capabilities of the private sector and attract more investment in the country’s space industry.
Further, the Indian government’s support for the private space sector is evident through policy initiatives and funding allocations. The government has allocated funds to IN-SPACe and is preparing rules to facilitate foreign investment6 in space projects. With these measures, India aims to position itself as a leader in space technology and attract global partnerships. The emergence of private players in the Indian space economy is transforming the landscape. Startups such as Agnikul Cosmos and Skyroot Aerospace are making their mark by developing cost-effective solutions for satellite launches and space-based services. Agnikul Cosmos plans to conduct launches from its own launchpad at Sriharikota, catering to customers seeking to launch smaller payloads. The increasing number of satellites in orbit, projected to grow tenfold by 2030, presents significant opportunities for private companies to provide economical launch services.
Need for a Domestic Space Law
As the Indian private space economy expands, there is a pressing need for a domestic space law. The absence of specific regulations addressing private space activities raises concerns related to licensing, liability, intellectual property rights, and safety. One way to address these questions is to have a clear and comprehensive domestic space law that regulates and governs India’s space activities, both public and private. Such a law would have several benefits for India’s space sector, such as:
- It would define the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, such as ISRO, private companies, research institutions, and civil society.
- It would establish the legal framework and procedures for licensing, authorization, supervision, and liability of space activities.
- It would reflect India’s obligations and commitments under international treaties and conventions, such as the Outer Space Treaty, 1967 and ensure that India’s space activities are consistent with its national interests and values.
- It would enable India to tap into the immense potential of other emerging areas of space activity, such as satellite broadband, asteroid mining, space tourism, and orbital debris removal.
- It would help India to position itself as a leader and partner in the global space community, where new norms and rules are being shaped by various actors.
To achieve its goal of capturing 10% of the global space economy by 2030, India needs to leverage the potential of the private sector. This requires a shift in the administrative structure of the space sector, where ISRO can focus on national development while the Ministry of Defence oversees the military dimensions of space technologies. ISRO should shed some activities and concentrate on its core competencies within its limited budget. Unleashing the potential of the private sector and developing partnerships with entrepreneurial players in New Space will be crucial to achieving India’s space ambitions.
Chandrayaan-3 represents a significant milestone for India’s space program and its interplay with the emerging Indian private space economy. The mission not only aims to advance lunar exploration and display India’s capabilities but also highlights the government’s commitment to fostering a flourishing commercial presence in space. As the private sector gains prominence, the formulation of a domestic space law becomes crucial to address legal and regulatory aspects associated with private space activities. Furthermore, India’s participation in lunar exploration aligns with its commitment to peaceful space activities and international cooperation, as reflected in its status as a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty as well as the recently signed Artemis Accords. Chandrayaan-3’s success has the potential to inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and position India as a leader in space technology on the global stage.
Shantam Sharma, Assessment Intern at S.S. Rana & Co. has assisted in the research of this Article.
 Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-66185565
 Available at: https://www.unoosa.org/pdf/gares/ARES_21_2222E.pdf
 Available at: https://static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/specificdocs/documents/2023/apr/doc2023410179001.pdf
 Available at: https://www.isro.gov.in/media_isro/pdf/IndianSpacePolicy2023.pdf
 Available at: https://www.zeebiz.com/india/video-gallery-chandrayaan-3-private-and-public-enterprises-that-helped-isro-with-its-moon-mission-244578
 Available at: https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1914226