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As India takes off to space, the stardust will fall on IT

India's progress in space technology will yield benefits not only for its burgeoning space industry but also propel IoT and telephony applications

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India has recently cemented its position as a global space power, joining the ranks of the US, China, Russia, and Japan with the launch of two space missions in just over a week.

In late August of this year, the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft successfully landed on the Moon’s south pole, believed to house water deposits. This historic achievement was followed by the launch of the Aditya-L1 rocket in early September, aimed at studying the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere.

The maturation of India’s space programme, led by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), promises not only to advance humanity’s understanding of the cosmos but also to drive industries and technological applications on Earth.

The global space technology market is projected to be worth $731.8bn by 2030, according to Grand View Research. This growth will be fuelled by the demand for satellite-based services in telecommunications, weather forecasting, remote sensing, high-resolution imaging, hyperspectral sensors, and advanced communication systems.

Moreover, when coupled with artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and algorithms for satellite data analysis, as well as autonomous communication protocols, a myriad of new markets and possibilities could emerge.

Indranil Bandyopadhyay, principal analyst at Forrester, noted that India’s advances in space technology will reap multiplier effects: “Whenever a big revolution happens, complementary technologies emerge to shape a good ecosystem around it. Just as we have seen generative AI leading to new hardware and application advances, space missions will also create a new tech ecosystem ahead.”

Pertisth Mankotia, CIO of Sheela Foam, a manufacturer of mattresses and other foam products, identified areas where space breakthroughs can translate into IT applications.

For example, satellite imagery powered by cloud and the internet-of-things (IoT) can provide real-time data to farmers in agritech applications. Other potential applications include location mapping for retail stores, tracking customer footfall, and automating toll payments for motorists to reduce road congestion.

Conversely, technologies developed on Earth, such as cloud and edge computing capabilities, could also find applications in space. KaleidEO Space Systems, a startup in Bengaluru, is using edge computing to generate real-time insights from images captured by orbiting satellites.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has also collaborated with ISRO and the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre to support space-tech innovations through cloud computing.

“Cloud computing-led innovations enable the space industry to make better decisions, faster – pushing the boundaries of possibilities. We look forward to helping customers in India build space-tech solutions to make life on Earth better,” said Shalini Kapoor, director and chief technologist of public sector at AWS India and South Asia.

The real and immediate action, though, would be in IoT and telephony. According to a report from IoT analyst firm Berg Insight, the global satellite IoT subscriber base surpassed 4.5 million in 2022 and could reach 23.9 million by 2027.

With only about 10% of the Earth’s surface having access to terrestrial connectivity, there is significant untapped potential for satellite IoT communications. Plus, the global satellite internet market size could be as big as $18.59bn by 2030, according to Allied Market Research.

Further opportunities in space technology may open up as more commercial players enter the arena. Apart from ISRO, private companies like Skyroot Aerospace have successfully launched rockets and tested 3D-printed rocket engines. Some emerging space players are also aiming to offer affordable space rides, democratising access to space travel and spearheading the nascent space tourism market.

Pawan Kumar Chandana, CEO and co-founder of Skyroot Aerospace, envisioned a bright future: “Space has massive resources to support trillions of people. Satellite broadband can be the next big thing. India can leapfrog from landlines to satellites and connect a huge chunk of population in the next five to 10 years.”

India’s progress bodes well for a billion-dollar space economy that is expected to emerge in the subcontinent by 2024. The government has also implemented policies to expand India’s space programme and realise the country’s space ambitions. As Bandyopadhyay aptly puts it: “There’s just so much that we don’t know, but we will find out as we move up.”

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