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All You Need to Know about New Space India Ltd (NSIL)

Mar 17, 2021 8:50 AM 4 min read

Things are about to get very busy for New Space India Ltd (NSIL).

The PSE, which is ISRO's commercial arm, announced recently that it is looking at investing c. ₹10,000cr ($1.37bn) over the next five years in addition to meeting a manpower requirement of 300 people as part of its plans to scale up operations.

NSIL is also in talks with the country's nodal space agency to acquire its fleet of remote sensing and communication satellites. It is also looking to manufacture the entire Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through domestic industries.

Also on the table are discussions with the Department of Space (DoS) to own and operate communication satellites for which an Indian telco as well as a direct-to-home service provider have reportedly signed up as customers.

What is NSIL?

Incorporated in March 2019, NSIL is a wholly-owned Government of India undertaking (a CPSE) under the jurisdiction of the DoS. It was established to commercially exploit the R&D work of ISRO and the constituent units of the DoS in the emerging global space market.

In its two years of existence, NSIL has already executed launch services spread over four PSLV missions for 45 auxiliary customer satellites. Its first dedicated launch was PSLV-C51, which successfully launched Amazonia-1 (Brazil’s first Earth observation satellite) and 18 co-passenger satellites from Sriharikota.


What Does NSIL Do?

The PSE has a wide-ranging mandate, from marketing ISRO’s products to potential buyers to helping expanding the space sector as a whole.

NSIL’s roles and responsibilities include:

  1. Small Satellite technology transfer to industry, wherein NSIL will obtain license from DoS/ISRO and sub-license it to industries
  2. Manufacture of PSLV and Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) in collaboration with the private sector
  3. Production and marketing of space-based products and services, including launch and application
  4. Transfer of technology developed by ISRO Centres and constituent units of DoS
  5. Marketing spin-off technologies and products/services, both in India and abroad

In June 2020, as part of the larger space sector reforms, the Government enhanced NSIL’s mandate to (1) own and operate capital-intensive space assets such as satellites and launch vehicles and (2) provide end-to-end services on a commercial basis.



NSIL’s activities have been framed partly in a way to ensure that premier research teams of ISRO can be relieved from routine or commercial activities, facilitating them to focus primarily on advanced research and development.

Now, prior to NSIL’s establishment, ISRO already had a commercial arm - Antrix Corporation, which is also a Government-owned company. Both these arms’ activities complement each other and even overlap in places. Whilst NSIL also works towards improving the local industry’s space expertise, Antrix handles ISRO’s deals with foreign customers.

But, largely, both these entities have similar mandates. In fact, many observers were confused over the need to create another commercial arm in the first place. Why create an Antrix 2.0 when you already had Antrix 1.0? Perhaps it was to reflect the growing commercial benefits of ISRO’s research, or perhaps it was to avoid attention being derailed by the mayhem of the Antrix-Devas scam.

FYI: This scam involved a deal signed in 2005 between Antrix and Bengaluru-based startup Devas Multimedia wherein the former agreed to lease S-band transponders on two ISRO satellites at a huge discount to the market price. The latter was to use this spectrum to offer hybrid satellite and terrestrial communication services throughout India. In 2011, irregularities in the agreement were revealed in the media, following which the Government annulled the contract. Davos sued in an international arbitration forum and then a US court, both of which said the startup was liable for $1.2bn in compensation.

NSIL’s roles are in step with the growing space ambitions of the country, with the private sector expected to play an important role going forward. In this light, an upcoming space entity is the Indian National Space, Promotion & Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), which will act as a link between ISRO and the private sector, enabling the latter to utilise the space agency’s infrastructure. It was the second space organisation created in only the past two years (the first being NSIL). IN-SPACe will also act as the regulator of private sector participation in the space sector.


Telecom Talk

NSIL’s pitch to scale up operations by operating communication satellites is an unsurprising one. India’s telecom industry is the world’s second-largest and is expected to grow robustly in the near-term on the back of falling smartphone prices, low data rates and a vast untapped market that is still offline.

The telecom sector is dependent on ISRO’s satellite communication network (INSAT, one of the largest in the world). As such, any space-based entity’s desire for commercial viability is often intricately tied to its telecom capabilities, which are lucratively scalable thanks to the sheer size of the telecom sector.

FYI: The Department of Telecom is working to set-up a network of low earth orbit (LEO) and medium earth orbit (MEO) satellites to decrease bandwidth rates and help achieve 100% connectivity across the country.

Going forward, as the space sector embraces private players, we could expect the same in satellite communications, where increased competition and capital could translate to lower broadband rates, faster speeds and omnipresent coverage.


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