New forces in orbit | The Indian Express

2020-03-03 | 4 minutes

Context: The involvement of private sector companies and small countries like UAE and Luxembourg in the space sector has rapidly grown in the 21st century.


  • In July 2014, UAE has announced its first mission to Mars, named Hope. The mission is scheduled for launch from Japan in July 2020.
  • In 2016, the cabinet has approved MoU between ISRO and UAE Space Agency (UAESA), and ISRO is working with UAE for the Mars Mission of UAE government.
  • The smallest country of Europe, Luxembourg has launched space resources initiative in 2016. It allowed private companies and investors to find out and use resources available in the space.
  • In 2017, Luxembourg allowed commercial organizations to extract and own space resources through a legal framework. After the US, Luxembourg is the second country in the world to do so.
  • In 2018, Luxembourg established its own space agency, Luxembourg Space Agency.
  • In 2019, Hazza al-Mansouri became UAE’s first astronaut to go into space.


Participation of small countries in space sectorin 21stcentury:

Traditionally, big countries like USA, Russia, and China have remained major investors in space programmes. Other major participants in the space sector have been European nations, India and Japan. Despite being small countries, the United Arab Emirates and Luxembourg have recently increased their involvement in the space sector.

  1. United Arab Emirates (UAE)’s example and space strategy: Despite being a small country, UAEis going to launch its Mars mission soon. The UAE’s efforts and achievements like the first astronaut into spaces how that even small countries can increase their participation in the space.
  2. Luxembourg’s example and space strategy: Luxembourg has taken many regulatory initiatives to support the private sector in satellite operations and resource extraction from asteroids. Some of the initiatives are space resources initiative, launching its own space agency and allowing commercial organizations to extract and own space resources legally.

Space strategy of UAE and Luxembourg:

  • UAE: One part of UAE’s space strategy has been increasing participation in the rapidly growing commercial space industry. Currently, it is estimated to be around $ 400 billion. By 2040, it may grow to one trillion dollars. This will help the UAE to diversify its economy from dependence on hydrocarbons.
  • Luxembourg: The need for economic diversification is also a part of Luxembourg’s space strategy. In the last decades of 20th century, Luxembourg has diversified its economy from being based on the steel industry to being based on banking and finance. Now, it is looking at commercial space as a part of its economy and expanding the space sector through companies and public research organizations. Currently, the space sector is estimated to form nearly 2% of its GDP.

Growth of commercial space sector: In the second half of the 20th century, governments funded, directed and managed national space programs. With the increase in the use of space, the US gave space contracts to private companies in the aviation industry like Boeing and Lockheed. These worked as told by NASA/US. Commercial space sector grew with expansion in satellite-based telecommunication, navigation, broadcasting and mapping services in the last decades of the 20th century. In the 21st century, commercial space sector has grown to approximately 400 billion dollars. It may grow to one trillion dollars by 2040.

Increasing participation of private companies in space sectorin 21stcentury: Space X is an example of increasing participation of private companies in the space sector in the 21stcentury. The company has grown its space business from carrying a resupply mission for the space station to launching more rockets every year than launched by NASA. Now, it plans to provide space-based internet through many satellites placed in low-earth orbit. Similarly, Amazon is aiming for a network of over 3,000 low-earth orbit satellites. Space X and Amazon intend to develop space tourism and human settlements on Moon and Mars. The private sector companies in space have brought down the costs of launch by developing reusable rockets. SpaceIL, a company of Israel has sent Beresheetlander to the moon. It became the first privately funded moon lander.   


Globally, the space sector has changed from the one being dominated by a few governments to one seeing increased participation by small countries and private companies. In order to sustain achievements made by its space programme and increase its share in the global space economy, India needs to encourage private companies by reforming and reorganizing its space sector.  

Mains Question:

It is said that the space sector has changed from being based on domination by governments of few countries to one being based on increased participation by small countries and private sector companies. Comment with examples. (200 words)