The upcoming Space Activities Bill in India and what it needs to address


In June, 2020, Jitendra Singh, Union Cabinet Minister of India announced that space exploration and certain space activities will be open to the private sector in India. Previously, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was the only public organisation which launched satellites in space and planned missions for space exploration. Following the success of Private companies like SpaceX in the US, it is important for India to create favourable conditions for private companies to operate in the sector with limited regulations and clear laws.

On July 6, 2020, ISRO Chief, K Sivan announced that India would be coming up with a new Space policy and Space Activities Bill. Moreover, he added that the new bills would be more inclusive to the private sector. The Space Activities Bill is much awaited by enthusiasts of space exploration in India because it will clarify the rules and regulations associated with operating in the space sector. Being a high risk and a high investment sector, policies and frameworks for operating in this sector need to be clarified by the government to boost private investment.

Currently, India follows various peaceful international treaties signed worldwide. The Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (“COPUOS”) largely determines Space policy in the international arena and ensures that no country is exploiting the usage of Space for personal interests. The Outer Space Treaty ensures that countries can explore space only for peaceful purposes and they cannot put any weapons of mass destruction in space. The policy however does not mention anything about the usage of conventional weapons in Space.

According to the Liability Convention, in case any country launches into space and damages the property in another country, it will be liable to pay reparations to the country which has faced the damages. With private players entering the market, it is not certain whether private companies or the government will bear the cost of any issues arising in liability from damage of international property. If the Indian government will bear the cost of damages created by a private property, the risk will be sufficiently large for the government. Hence, there is a need to reassess risk distribution for private players in India.

There is also a possibility that space objects created by private companies cause damage to Indian property itself. The government needs to clarify rules and regulations for various situations of possible damage created by private companies.

Taylor Wessing explains that “These rules are largely insufficient to cover all legal issues arising out of private activities in space” commenting on the international policy framework in reference to space exploration. It’s important to note that when most of the international treaties in space were signed, most countries did not allow private sector activity in space. Hence, the private sector was not taken into consideration during the formulation and signing of these treaties by the participants. With private sector activity in space, the government may need to give further clarifications about the impact that international treaties will have on domestic companies. Collaboration between international private companies will also need to be regulated by the government. International collaboration could create defence, commercial and scientific benefits for the world.

The Space Activities Bill needs to clearly address the role which the private sector will play in International Space Treaties and the liabilities associated with it. The space sector has limited accessibility because of the high costs involved for general audiences. As we create policies to increase equality worldwide, we also need to create policies which increase accessibility and inclusivity in space. With increased privatisation, there may be an increase in inequality in space exploration in the world.

In 2001, the first space tourist, U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito, was charged US$ 20 million to fly to the International Space Station. Hence, space may not be affordable to everyone because private companies will try to maximise their individual profits. Moreover, exploring space has mostly been under the domain of scientists, engineers, researchers and other people from STEM domains. Policies need to be created worldwide to answer the question – “Who gets to explore space first?”.

Space For Humanity, a non-profit organisation based out of the USA, is working towards increasing equality and inclusion in the area of space exploration. Space for Humanity’s mission is based on the concept of The Overview Effect, which explains the humbling effect which exploring space can have on people. Looking at Earth’s surface from the edge of Earth can make people realise their insignificance and interconnectedness. It prompts everyone experiencing Earth from Space, to see everyone on Earth as one, and create policies which are inclusive when they come back to Earth. Space For Humanity sponsors citizen flights to space for people all across the world without any discrimination based on race, nationality, gender, religion or any other factor.

Since, space as a field should be inclusive and open to everyone to explore, Non profit organisations like Space for Humanity play an important role in making space more equal and accessible for everyone, even in the Indian context. Indian private companies could partner with organisations like Space for Humanity to create a more inclusivity in space exploration for not just India, but other countries in the world.

India is at the brink of a dawn of a new era in the space sector. With the opportunity to create space policies which are unprecedented, India’s Space Activities Bill can be a precedent for various future bills in the sector created in Asia. As Indians look forward to the Space Activities Bill, we may see India’s own Elon Musk lurking by to revolutionise space travel in the world in the near future.

Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna
Vidhi Bubna is a freelance journalist from Mumbai who covers international relations, defence, diplomacy and social issues. Her current focus is on India-China relations.


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