Officials of the Indian space sector, both serving and retired, are of the view that the space sector’s organisational structure is expected to mirror that of India’s atomic energy sector.
They also said that senior officials of the Indian space agency should address the employees on what is happening in the sector and how it will pan out so that uncertainty and confusion are addressed.
In the Indian atomic energy sector, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) is at the top, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) is the sectoral regulator while the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL), the Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam Ltd (both power companies), the Uranium Corporation of India Ltd, the Electronics Corporation of India Ltd, and IREL (India) Ltd are public sector units (PSU).
The Bhabha Atomic Energy Centre (BARC), Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) are the premier research and development (R&D) organisations and there are several DAE-aided organisations.
While the DAE is headed by a Secretary (normally from the R&D units) who is also the head of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), the R&D centres and PSUs are headed by different persons.
Similarly, the government that has started the space sector reforms seems to be replicating the atomic energy model, several officials told IANS.
“The Central government’s moves in the space sector seems to replicate the atomic energy model,” an official told IANS.
Currently, the Department of Space (DOS) is at the top and below that, comes the private sector space regulator Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) with various R&D-cum-production (rockets, satellites and others) units.
The sector has two PSUs – Antrix Corporation Ltd and NewSpace India Ltd.
Unlike the atomic energy sector, the Secretary of the DOS and Chairman of the Space Commission is also the Chairman of the ISRO.
As part of the space sector reform measures, the government has set up IN-SPACe as a regulator for the private sector players.
“Ultimately there will be only one sectoral regulator. There cannot be two regulators – one for the private sector and other for the public sector. Who will be the regulator if there is a company that is floated in public-private partnership,” an official asked.
“It is good that there is a separate sectoral regulator outside of the DOS and the ISRO,” an official said.
The recently-formed PSU NewSpace India has been mandated to build, own satellites, rockets and also provide space based services and transfer ISRO-developed technologies to others.
ISRO Chairman and Secretary DOS K.Sivan has been saying that ISRO will focus on high end research.
As a result, the positions of Secretary, DOS and Chairman, ISRO may not be held by the same person.
“Looking forward, there are possibilities of the government coming out with a voluntary retirement scheme for ISRO officials and merging its various production centres with NewSpace to synergise its operations,” a former senior official of ISRO told IANS.
“But there is one issue in this proposition. For ISRO, the production centres are also its R&D centre. Both production and R&D are interwoven. One has to see how both will be separated to be housed under ISRO and NewSpace India.”
Meanwhile, the minds of ISRO officials are filled with uncertainty and confusion about their future which is linked to that of their organisation.
ISRO Staff Association General Secretary G.R.Pramod had told IANS that there is “uncertainty all around about the future of about 17,300 employees of ISRO”.
“The ISRO top management that includes the Chairman and the Heads of various centres should come out openly and address the employee concerns at the earliest,” an official added.
According to officials, the uncertainty in the minds of ISRO officials is due to the communication from the government to freeze all recruitment as sectoral reforms are underway – allowing the private sector players in making and launching of satellites and rockets.
The ISRO officials also told IANS that promotions for several categories were kept on hold for the past two years. The promotion exercise for some has been carried out recently.
“Further the number of rocket launches this year from India came down drastically to just two from six or seven per year at an average. Out of two one critical mission for the country had failed,” an official said.
However, the unanimous view is that the space sector reforms are a much-needed move on the part of the government so that the resources are used economically.
“For a long time, satellite utilisation was an issue. Perhaps the satellites will be launched based on the demand from now onwards. The days of launching a satellite to utilise the rockets and then, searching for customers should be over,” an official remarked.
Curiously, officials said all these years, ISRO had not approached its commercial arm Antrix to find out what the market needs so that it can build and launch such satellites.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)