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Space Law In India: A Legal Run Through

Introduction and History
"A Space Act would help the government deal with legal issues arising from objects put up in space and for what happens to them in orbit, or because for them."[1]

In India, space has traditionally been the exclusive province of the government. It has only been opened up to the private sector, as it will assist in getting objects into orbit and possibly beyond, allowing the private sector to provide commercial services. While the government will oversee and supervise what goes into space, it will make certain that the industry is not too regulated, as this will discourage investment or cause it to crash in jurisdictions with less severe regulatory standards.

It was past time for India to gain a foothold in the international space community. With the launch of Sputnik in 1957 by the then-Soviet Union, all nations began to explore deeper. In the post-independence period, India has focused on developing, launching, and operating satellites using indigenous technologies. In 1962, it established the Indian National Committee for Space Research, which is now known as the Indian Space Research Organization (hereinafter referred to as ISRO).

By 2007, it had paid off, as India had launched Chandrayan-I, the world's first unmanned spacecraft, to the moon. The Memorandum of Understanding between India and the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), Bulgaria, and several other accords demand for India to establish and reform its national space strategy. As a result, in the last half-century, ISRO has launched over 300 satellites for 33 different countries, which is a great achievement.

Background of ISRO
The Indian Space Program is organized in a hierarchical framework, with the Office of the Prime Minister overseeing all operations and exercising control over the program through the Space Commission and the Department of Space. The Department of Space is in charge of enforcing this policy. ISRO is primarily responsible for space research and development. The Indian Space Program's major goal is to apply space technology to national development while also performing space science research and planetary exploration.

In 1958, India joined the General Assembly's ad hoc body, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), and its multiple subcommittees (one scientific and one technical), the only worldwide forum for space development, International Outer Space Law.

This committee was essential in India's signing of five international space accords, including:
  1. The Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967 that governs state activities in space research and utilization, including the moon and other celestial bodies.
  2. The Rescue Agreement, signed in 1968 that deals with the rescue of astronauts, their safe return, and the recovery of space objects.
  3. The 1972 Liability Convention, which addresses international liability for damage caused by space objects.
  4. The Registration Convention, 1975 which is a convention on registration of objects in outer space.
  5. The Moon Treaty, signed in 1979, governs state activity on the moon and other celestial worlds.

ISRO runs a number of programs aimed at fostering space technology in India, including the Launch Vehicle Program, program for broadcasting and telecommunications, and the Remote Sensing Program for using satellite pictures for development. ISRO also provides services (as per DOS rules) such as space infrastructure for India's telecommunications needs, satellite services for weather transmission, forecasting, and meteorology, satellite images, and many other services in order to improve space science.

Regulation in practice
India is ranked fifth in the world in terms of space technology, which is a fantastic achievement that should not be overlooked in any manner. The Indian government will create the growing regulatory framework for space operations based on its policies and procedures. The Remote Sensing Data Policy, which went into effect in 2011 and replaced the 2001 policy's ineffective provisions, such as the Resolution Image Clearance Committee (NRSC), a policy framework for satellite communications in India (the SATCOM Policy), and the ISRO SATCOM Standards and Technology Transfer Policy, are just a few of them.

Characteristics of the national framework
With national space laws in the works, India's private space sector is projected to become increasingly active in the coming years. The space sector has been dominated by the government since the early 1960s, with private business mostly serving as a provider through contractual partnerships with the DOS via ISRO. This is rapidly changing with the participation of the commercial private sector.

One of the issues that commercial parties in the Indian space sector confront is that agreements with the DOS and ISRO do not follow a standard framework, making it difficult to predict the outcome of discussions with the appropriate government body. One of the key reasons why the Indian space industry has pressed on the establishment of national space laws is the regulatory ambiguity.

The growing importance of space operations in general, as well as the growing involvement of the private sector in such activities, has made national legislation on space activities undertaken by government agencies and private commercial actors vital for a space nation like India.

The Draft Outer Space Activities Act 2017[2], pledges the Indian government to provide a framework that supports all aspects of space-related activities. The bill identifies two fundamental reasons for space exploration: the first is for peaceful objectives, and the second is for national security reasons. Another characteristic of the law is that it compels the government to establish broader policies while not holding them directly responsible for space infrastructure spending.

ISRO works with roughly 500 private enterprises on a limited basis, and Indian industry has been involved in space activities for nearly five decades.[3] However, in recent years the Indian government has actively encouraged the private sector to participate in Indian space programs. ISRO has done a significant amount of applied work in the space sector, which has prevented it from focusing on space exploration.[4] Therefore, by allowing the commercial space sector to participate in Indian space programs, ISRO intends to focus solely on research and development activities, including the development of a manned space program.[5]

The government has announced the formation of two new organizations in the last two years to enable private sector participation in India's space industry. New Space India Limited (NSIL), a public sector corporation incorporated as a commercial branch of ISRO under the administrative administration of the Department of Space, was established in 2019. NSIL was established to commercialize the benefits of ISRO's research and development.[6]

The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Center will be established in June 2020, according to the government (IN-SPACe). This body acts as a regulator and facilitator for the private space industry in India, with the goal of governing, promoting, and steering the sector. In order for IN-SPACe to serve as a regulator under Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty, a licensing, permitting, and oversight system was established. It also serves as a liaison for the private sector, assessing its needs in conjunction with ISRO. IN-SPACe ensures that private companies are positioned on a level playing field in India's space sector.[7]

Conclusion
India has been long delayed in enacting robust space legislation. Articles 51 and 253 of the Indian Constitution mandate that India implement the required and applicable laws to not only foster and expand public-private partnerships, but also to harness indigenous knowledge. It should be underlined that once the bill has been enacted and transformed into law, the government should not over-regulate the private sector. The more permissive the system, the more likely the government will attract investment in this area and establish India as a global space powerhouse.

The entry of various private actors that shape the Indian space sector in the upcoming decades with the passage of the Outer Space Activities Bill, aims to provide a licencing and regulatory framework for the Indian space industry, although the country shall have to wait and see what position the Indian government will take on certain provisions of the draught law. The majority of enterprises interested in the space sector in India are start-ups that cannot afford to take on such large financial liability risks in their early stages. As a result, the government must limit the licensee's obligation.
.
End-Notes:
  1. As per ISRO's chief, K. Sivan
  2. Ashwati Pacha, The Hindu, The Hindu Explains: What is the Space Activities Bill, 2017, https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/the-hindu-explains-what-is-the-space-activities-bill-2017/article20680984.ece (Last visited Mar 13, 2022).
  3. New Space India Ltd., https://www.nsilindia.co.in/Aboutus (Last visited Mar 13, 2022).
  4. ISRO, Antrix Corporation Limited, https://www.isro.gov.in/about-isro/antrix-corporation-limited (Last visited Mar 13, 2022).
  5. Private sector will be allowed to use ISRO facilities and other relevant assets to improve their capacities: DrJitendra Singh, https://sarinlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Footnote-for-private-sector-participation-and-can-use-ISRO.pdf, (Last visited Mar 13, 2022).
  6. NSIL, Vision And Mission, https://www.nsilindia.co.in/vision-and-mission, (Last visited Mar 13, 2022).
  7. PIB Delhi, Historic reforms initiated in the Space sector, https://sarinlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/PressRelease-Participation-of-Private-Sector.pdf (Last Visited Mar 13, 2022).

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