An Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Center (IN-SPACe) will be created to authorise satellite communications, according to a proposal by the Department of Space. Under the proposed rules, only Indian entities will be allowed to use satellite communications in India.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) released a draft Space Based Communication Policy of India, 2020. This policy would serve as a successor to the Satcom Policy, 1997, put out 22 years ago. It also put out a draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of Spacecom Policy, 2020, which is part of the same consultation.

This policy, if enacted, would have a significant impact on the private satellite communications industry. It may also make it easier for private players like Airtel to introduce satellite broadband in under-served areas through satellite constellations like OneWeb.

Summary — Space Based Communications Policy

The Spacecom policy is a relatively brief document compared to the implementation roadmap, as it only lays out high-level goals for satellite communications in the country. The policy emphasises that India must “capture due shares in global market, [for which] it is essential to augment the orbit-spectrum resources and develop new technologies in a sustained manner”. The goals to that end are:

  1. Take steps to authorise and monitor satellite communications from and to India.
  2. Protect “space assets” and “bring in more space assets under the administrative control” for “national needs”.
  3. Promote involvement of Indian industry.
  4. Harness satellite communication for requirements that commercial business models cannot support due to economic or national security concerns.
  5. Provide a “timely and responsive regulatory environment” for the satellite/space communications industry.

The Department of Space is the administrative ministry to issue these guidelines, and the policies shall be in force after cabinet approval.

Summary — Spacecom Policy Implementation Roadmap

The draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of Spacecom Policy, 2020 lays out in detail how each of the above goals will be accomplished.

“India has emerged as one of the few counties [sic] with end-to-end capabilities for satellite based communication systems and applications,” the policy says. As such, space communications must be leveraged to fulfil national needs (such as internet in underserved areas), pioneer technological advancements, and involve industry players more significantly.

  • Space a “common province of humanity”: Since space isn’t subject to boundaries and territorial spectrum rules, and is instead subject to regulations from the International Telecommunication Union, use of space-based communications must “be permitted through a process of authorization,” the norms say. “It is essential that Government of India has the knowledge and provisions of having control on the activities with respect to any communication involving space objects from its territory,” the norms say.
  • Securing space assets: To secure space assets, it is necessary to acquire orbital resources (like spectrum) in a time-bound manner, and replace satellites in a timely fashion. Since the 1980s, 32 indigenous operational communications satellites have been brought in from multiple orbital slots using various frequency bands. It is necessary to enhance orbital resources like spectrum and slots under Indian administration.
  • Re-assigning unused orbital resources: The policy puts pressure on authorised entities by saying that unused orbital resources may simply be given to someone who is better prepared to use them. “DOS shall take appropriate action for protection of such resource including assigning the same to other potential Indian satellite operator(s) following stipulated procedures,” the draft norms say.
  • Involving Indian industry: The Department of Space and ISRO have nurtured Indian industry in space, and companies have matured to better capabilities. As such, their involvement to deal with demand for existing and emerging services should be encouraged, so that they can provide services both at home and abroad.
  • Govt to take up security and connectivity projects: For communications for national security (like military satellites), the Department of Space will take full charge of such systems. The DoS will also take charge of connectivity projects in remote areas that a commercial service provider may not be inclined to pursue.
  • Autonomous body to clear spacecom projects: An “autonomous body under Department of Space” shall be created, the Indian National Space Promotion & Authorization Center (IN-SPACe), the draft norms say. Guidelines and regulations, however, will be the DoS’s remit. “The authorisation addresses the country’s liability for any potential damages caused by the space object or space activities of Indian entities as owner of the space asset,” the norms say.
  • Indian companies can buy PSU-controlled orbital resources: Indian companies can purchase spectrum and other orbital resources from “designated PSU/CPSE under DOS on commercial basis subject to availability,” the norms say.

“[Private players] can establish telemetry, tracking & command (TT&C) earth stations and satellite control centre (SCC) in or outside India. They can offer the capacity to commercial and societal communications within India as well as outside India. They can also supply their systems and solutions to international markets.”

  • Only Indians can get authorisation for space-based communications: The norms say that only Indians may get authorisations from the DoS for running a satellite-based communications service. Additionally, Indian entities will have to get financial guarantees or insurance against damage that can happen in outer space due to their equipment. “Any Indian service provider/user can avail the space based communications only on the authorized space based systems,” the DoS said. This essentially translates to a continuation of the ban on satellite phones from abroad, which work in India but are outlawed. If there is a change in ownership of the Indian entity, fresh authorisations must be sought.

The draft norms further lay out the application procedures, such as having different formats for setting up Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) stations, non-geostationary satellite systems for applications such as broadband via satellite (NGSO communications systems) and Satellite Control Centres (SCCs). Orbital resources administered by other countries can be used, if they are on track to be transferred to Indian administration. Different authorisations will be required for different aspects of running a satellite communications system, such as for setting it up, changing frequency bands, and other procedural requirements.

Read the Draft Policy (Current deadline to comment: November 4, 2020)