Dissemination of remote sensing data to support development activities in India are guided by the Remote Sensing Data Policy of India of 2001 and 2011. The remote sensing technology was promoted by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in early seventies and ISRO launched its first remote sensing satellite in 1988. Since then, ISRO satellites have been providing crucial remote sensing data and information on critical issues such as natural resources, climate change, disaster management etc. and the data is being used for a variety of applications and developmental and operational activities.
The Department of Space (“DOS”) vide its Notification No. DS-3p-16013/62/2020-Sec-3 dated November 20, 2020 issued the draft Space-based Remote Sensing Policy of India (“RS Policy 2020”) and draft Norms, Guidelines and Procedures for implementation of RS Policy 2020 (“RS NGP 2020”) for public consultation and submission of suggestions. The intent of the new draft policy is to enhance the capability and capacity to utilise the remote sensing (“RS”) technology with private participation and enable ease of data access and provision of services by private entities to users under simplified authorisations and procedures.
In accordance with the RS Policy 2020, the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (“IN-SPACe”) will be responsible for providing authorisation for enabling Indian entities to establish and operate satellite RS systems to provide remote sensing data and solutions within and outside India. The Indian entities can undertake design and development of satellites (through their own built or procured satellite) and RS systems, telemetry, tracking and command (“TT&C”) and data reception stations in or outside of India. The Government of India has however reserved its right to monitor and control the imaging and observation obligations and dissemination of sensitive data in case of national security and/or international obligation and/or foreign policy.
The RS NGP 2020 permits the Indian entities to take authorisations from IN-SPACe for establishing space assets as under:
a) Authorization for Establishment of Space Assets which are owned by Indian Entities for RS Data Collection:
– Indian entities can procure authorization to establish space assets for RS data services by providing information about the spacecraft i.e., payload details, spectral bands, orbital parameters, coverage area, etc. Annexure A of the RS NGP 2020 provides a prescribed format to enable the Indian entity to submit its proposal to establish the space assets;
– The Indian entity would be liable for any potential liabilities or damages which may be caused to other space assets in outer space and to the environment and the Indian entity would need to provide a financial guarantee or insurance. The sum of the guarantee and insurance will be determined by IN-SPACe;
– The authorization provided by IN-SPACe shall be applicable to the (i) applicant entity and any change in the ownership requires a fresh authorization and (ii) specific space assets and any change or replacement of the asset will again require a fresh authorization.
b) Authorization for Establishment of Ground Stations within India for Operation and Control of RS Satellite and Data Reception:
– The RS NGP 2020 allows Indian entities to set up ground stations within India for operation and control of RS satellite and reception of RS data. The proposal seeking authorization for TT&C and satellite data reception stations in India is submitted as per the format prescribed in Annexure B of the RS NGP 2020;
– The authorization will be valid for the (i) specific applicant entity and any change in ownership would require a fresh authorization and (ii) specific facility for monitoring and control of the specific space assets and/or data reception from specific space asset and any change or replacement will again require a fresh authorization.
c) Authorization of Space Assets for Transmission of RS Data over Indian Territory:
– If RS data is originating from an authorized space asset and the RS data is not ‘sensitive’, then the RS data over Indian territory can be made easily accessible to users by the Indian entity. The Indian service provider will need to submit its proposal as prescribed in Annexure C of the RS NGP 2020 for registering the space asset used for acquiring RS data within Indian territory;
– The RS data will need to have a ground sampling distance coarser than 50 cm (non-sensitive);
– Authorization provided will be for a specific space asset and any change or replacement of the asset will require a fresh authorization.
d) Dissemination of Sensitive RS Data/Services of Indian Territory emanating from the Space Asset;
– Any RS data having very high resolution and ground sampling distance of less than 50 cm will be considered as ‘sensitive’ data and the Indian service provider will need to seek an authorization for such dissemination by submitting its proposal in the form prescribed (in Annexure D of RS NGP 2020).
– The service provider will need additional authorization if it wants to disseminate sensitive data of certain areas by following a procedure laid down by the Government;
– The Government will have the power to impose control on the imaging/observations and data distribution, in case of national security or international obligation or foreign policy issues;
– In case there is any change in the ownership or change or replacement in the space asset, the service provider would need a fresh authorization.
DOS will continue to undertake remote sensing applications including research and development of algorithms/models, tools and techniques, development of satellites for strategic applications, implementation of societal programs and development of newer technologies to meet the national requirements and government priorities for innovative experiments. DOS proposes to transfer the space assets for satellite remote sensing comprising of satellite systems and associated ground segment at notional/no cost to designated public sector undertakings for commercial utilization.
The RS NGP 2020 is silent on the extent of change of ownership of the Indian entity that would require a fresh authorization but it appears that this clause will apply to any majority change of shareholding having an impact on the ownership structure. The RS Policy is also silent on the foreign equity participation in the Indian applicant entity and the same would be guided by the foreign direct investment policy of the Government of India which currently allows 100% foreign investment under government route for establishment and operation of satellites, subject to the sectoral guidelines of DOS and ISRO.
In our view the draft RS Policy 2020 is still a work in progress document and many other aspects need to be addressed including on the procedure and timelines involved in grant of the authorisation (as inordinate delays in grant of approval by ISRO for establishment of satellite systems in the past has made many applications redundant), the level of monitoring and control that will be exercised by DOS going forward, the manner of slot coordination and placement, payload bands operation, foreign investment allowed in RS systems etc. DOS is currently assessing the comments received from the industry and will come out with a final version of the policy in the near future.