Private Participation in Space Sector

Private Participation in Space Sector
Private Participation in Space Sector

Context-

  • Elon Musk’s SpaceX has become the first private company to launch human beings into orbit.
  • In this context, here is a look on the role of private participation in the space sector.
  • NASA used to have a fleet of five spaceships under its Space Shuttle programme.
  • These were used to make a total of 135 of journeys into space and the International Space Station (ISS), in the 30 years from 1981 to 2011.
  • Two of these were destroyed in accidents, the Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003.
  • Each resulted in the death of seven astronauts.
  • In the 2003 accident, India-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla was among those killed.
  • After that, the US government had decided to close the Space Shuttle programme.
  • The three remaining spaceships, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour, were formally retired in July 2011.
  • But they were fit for many more flights.
  •  It was decided that it probably no longer made sense for NASA to build and operate these spaceships.
  • It was not just costly, but was also consuming a lot of scientific resources.
  • The transportation needs could easily be fulfilled by space vehicles that some private companies were promising to make.
  • Accordingly, it was decided to help and support these companies in building these spaceships.
  • These can be hired by other agencies as well and even private individuals.
  • The NASA collaboration with SpaceX and Boeing was a result of this.
  • In the meanwhile, NASA utilised Russian spaceships to travel to the ISS, for which it paid tens of millions of dollars for every trip.
  • Russia also uses the ISS facility, and routinely sends its astronauts to the space station on its own spaceships.
  • For NASA, private companies' role is expected to be a cheaper option.
  • It also offers the comfort of operating from home soil and eliminates dependence on a foreign country.
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How has private participation so far been?

  • World over, more and more work of space agencies is already being done in collaboration with private companies.
  • There are literally hundreds of private entities building commercial satellites for their clients.
  • However, launch services remain a somewhat restricted zone, considering that it requires elaborate facilities and deep pockets.
  • But here too, there are several players apart from SpaceX and Boeing.
  • Many, like Virgin Galatic of businessperson Richard Branson, have already made space flights.
  • It might soon start offering passenger rides to space to those who can afford to pay.
  • In fact, in 2019, a spacecraft built by Scaled Composites, a US company, even took a human being for a very short ride into space, becoming the first private spacecraft to do so.

Privatization in India

  • Most of the private companies operating in the space sector in India collaborate with the ISRO.
  • They contribute in building and fabricating the components that go into making rockets and satellites.
  • There are several companies that have started making satellites for their own use, or for their clients.
  • However, launch services, including the building of rockets or launch vehicles, is still some distance away in India right now.
  • ISRO has been collaborating more and more with private industry.
  • However, the capability to independently carry out even routine space missions, like that by SpaceX/Boeing/Virgin Galactic, has been missing in India.

Future of the Space Sector

  • SpaceX's flight underlines the fact that space research and exploration is now a much more collaborative enterprise than before.
  • Space agencies of different countries are sharing data and resources.
  • More importantly, they are increasingly getting together to carry out joint missions as well.
  • The ISS itself is a good example of international cooperation in the space sector.
  • The space facility (ISS) is set to retire somewhere around 2028.
  • ISS's replacement being planned is likely to have participation from at least 10 countries, and possibly private players as well.
  • There is also a growing realisation that space agencies need to direct their energies and resources more towards scientific research and deep space exploration.
  • It’s been 50 years since the landing on moon, and efforts to take human beings to Mars and other celestial bodies, needs to be expedited.
  • Getting back to the Moon, which NASA and some other agencies plan to do in the next few years, is just the first step in that direction.
  • But that would also require huge amounts of financial resources that most of the space agencies, including NASA, are currently starved of.
  • Private players are expected to infuse fresh investments as well as technological innovation in this area.

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