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India’s Space Agency Embraces Openness to Grow Industry

India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), is transforming its approach to gain a larger share of the global commercial space market, which is projected to be worth $1 trillion 2030. Previously known for its culture of secrecy, ISRO is now aiming to be transparent and approachable, attracting young scientists, startups, investors, and private industry partners. The agency’s recent Chandrayaan-3 mission to the moon drew over 8 million viewers on YouTube, a record for the platform.

This shift in strategy is driven the goal to position India as a profitable space superpower, as advocated Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To achieve this, ISRO aims to engage the next generation and foster collaboration with the private sector. The agency’s increased openness has already caught the attention of university students and led to new opportunities for non-scientists, such as design students, to work with ISRO.

The appointment of S. Somanath as chairman in 2022 has been instrumental in driving these changes. Somanath has implemented various measures to create a more attractive working environment, including encouraging breaks, informal problem-solving discussions, and communal spaces for employees to connect. These small changes have contributed to a more responsive and efficient organization, enabling projects to progress faster.

The increased transparency and promotion of ISRO scientists’ achievements have also attracted space startups seeking guidance and partnerships with the agency. Private space insiders appreciate ISRO’s responsiveness, which provides predictability in their collaborations. However, challenges remain, including competition from established companies, the need for foreign investment, and the risk of setbacks.

In the pursuit of becoming a space superpower, ISRO has set ambitious goals, including studying the sun, launching astronauts into orbit, exploring Venus, and collaborating with NASA on planetary defense and deep space exploration. The Indian government, led Prime Minister Modi, is actively promoting the development of India’s space industry and is expected to open doors for foreign investment. The establishment of three bodies – IN-SPACe, NSIL, and ISpA – will facilitate interaction with the private sector, negotiate launches, and boost business.

With its newfound openness, ISRO aims to inspire young minds to pursue careers in science, foster innovation, and solidify India’s position in the global space industry.