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Space is strategic sector, needs appropriate safeguards, say veteran scientists

BENGALURU (PTI): Veteran space scientists have welcomed the Government's announcement on opening the space sector and ISRO facilities for private players but called for appropriate safeguards to ensure that sensitive and critical technologies do not fall into wrong hands given its strategic nature.

Former ISRO Chairman K Kasturirangan termed the move as a very important and crucial step at this stage to take India's space programme, started in 1963, to the next level in the coming years, noting that the sector is a critical element of India's ambition in the economic field.

"So, we need to look at avenues by which endeavour can be expanded in scope and as well as in terms of scale," Kasturirangan, who was also a member of the now-defunct Planning Commission, told PTI.

There is a big demand for space-related services in India, which provides cost-effective services in areas of launching, in building satellites or providing assistance in applications, itself, he pointed out.

Former ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair, while welcoming private participation in India's space research activities, said one has to carefully consider some of the policy matters.

"First of all, there has to be our national space law which will define responsibilities and liabilities," Nair told PTI. "There has to be proper control mechanisms to ensure that sensitive and critical technologies do not fall into the wrong hands."

According to him, in spite of not having a viable aerospace industry in the country, ISRO has taken initiative to ensure industrial participation in its programmes.

"The fact that about 60 per cent of ISRO's budget is spent through industries is proof of that," he said.

"I also have the fear that space does not bring large revenues or profits. So, how many will take up this challenge? Space exploration is still more complex because returns are negative and it is only long term investment," Nair said.

"The implementation has to be done taking into account sensitive international regulations like MTCR and international space law," he added.

Kasturirangan saw the government move as one being certainly in the right direction in expanding the activity among the industries, institutions also privately funded and the public sector. "It is a very balanced way to look at the future. To me, this is timely and good and critical step."

Space is certainly a national and strategic activity and we should look at the policies carefully and make sure that the expansion is facilitated with appropriate policy framework, he said.

"I am sure this is being examined by the government and they will do rightful thing. I am sure those who are working on strategic and national security areas will hopefully examine and work towards finding appropriate safeguards," Kasturirangan added.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday announced giving the private sector a role in India's space programme, including in satellites, launches and space-based services.

Private sector will be allowed to use ISRO facilities and other relevant assets to improve their capacities, she had said.

Future projects for planetary exploration and outer space travel would be open for private sector, she said, adding, liberal geo-spatial data policy will provide remote sensing data to tech-entrepreneurs.

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