Kerala Technology
Aerospace chamber hopes for an extra thrust

India’s space missions will see increased participation from the private sector. Photo courtesy ISRO

Aerospace chamber hopes for an extra thrust

Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on April 30, 2024
Hari Kumar By Hari Kumar, on April 30, 2024

Kerala firms involved in the aerospace sector are planning to give an extra thrust to the industry and hope that a common platform they have formed will boost the state’s role in the expanding space sector.

The Chamber of Aerospace Industries is now on a drive to bring together all stakeholders in the sector and develop an ecosystem needed to make the state a thriving space technology centre.

Kerala is the cradle of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which started its operations in Trivandrum in 1963. Some of the premier space agencies like Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) and The Liquid Propulsion Systems Centre(LPSC) are also based here.

But Kerala companies don’t execute even 10 percent of what ISRO outsources to the private sector. Over the last 75 years, a few firms that catered to the needs of the space agencies located in Trivandrum had sprung up. But none of them have been able to scale up to a higher level or become leading national players.

The Chamber wants to change that, says its president, Pius Varughese, whose firm VinVish has been in the space tech business for almost two decades. He says the chamber is now on a mission to increase its membership from the current 50-odd as there are nearly 500 companies in Kerala linked to space-related business.

The chamber hopes to be a platform for interaction with all stakeholders, including government agencies, academia, startups, and component suppliers, to ease the way forward for existing members and encourage more newcomers to enter the space industry.

With the aerospace business poised to reach a stratospheric level in the coming years, and the Indian private sector now looking to spread its wings both inside and outside the country, the chamber feels Kerala, and Trivandrum in particular, can reap the benefits of the coming boom if placed strategically.

The city boasts one of the largest pool of space scientists in the country, thanks to the active and retired space scientists in the city. Moreover, hundreds of fresh graduates are churned out by the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) based in the city.

Foreign companies have also started establishing offices here. Examples include Hex20 from Australia and Safran from France, while a delegation of space science officials from Australia had recently visited the city and Technopark to learn about the collaboration possibilities here.

The Kerala government says it plans to establish an industrial park dedicated to space tech firms with modern testing and fabrication facilities, but the pace at which it is going leaves a lot to be desired.

While neighbouring states like Tamil Nadu and Telangana have been racing ahead, offering lucrative deals to woo space tech firms, Kerala’s efforts often get snared in red tape and lack the urgency that is needed.

The chamber president says their platform has been pushing for a more proactive role for the government, and officials have woken up to the fact that this sector can play an important role in the state's economy.

Pius says stakeholders in the sector now realise the importance of having a platform to represent their needs across platforms, including the space agencies like ISRO.

He says the need for such a platform was initially felt during the Covid pandemic lockdown when strict curbs were placed on the movement of people, and only some key business sectors were granted exemptions.

“That is when we realised that even though there were several space tech firms in Kerala, there was no collective leadership for us,” says Pius.

“When we approached the government, some officials were scrambling to find out who we were. That is when we realised that despite Trivandrum being the seat of premier space institutions, spacetech was not identified as a sector by the government nor did it have a spacetech policy.”

That set things in motion, and the work to create a chamber for them started in earnest. Initially, 15 representatives from different space-related companies gathered in Trivandrum, and they decided to formally establish a chamber for those in space tech.

“We met the government officials and were able to convince them about the need to create a favourable environment for the space sector. Industry Minister P Rajeeve responded well and met with several stakeholders to gain their input.

This led to the state identifying aerospace as a key sector when the government released its industrial policy in 2023,” says Pius.

He also says the government’s plan for K-Space, the dedicated spacetech park, is finally finding its moorings with former VSSC official, K Levin, at its helm. The chamber is hopeful it will understand the needs of both the researchers and the industry.

Pius says there is no shortage of qualified experienced people here and finding fresh talent is also easy. But what we lack is a good support system. Even for simple things like nuts and bolts, we have to go far and wide, he says.

The lack of a robust support system for space agencies situated in Trivandrum, like VSSC, LPS, and ISRO Inertial Systems Unit (IISU), will affect India’s progress in the space exploration field as these units play a vital role in any space mission.

The Chamber wants to turn this problem into an advantage as it represents a huge market for local businesses. Pius says most companies and startups don’t realise this and are looking to conquer markets that are far away.

“There is a thriving multi-million dollar market right in front of their doorstep,” says the Chamber president.

The Chamber feels the establishment of a spacetech ecosystem will benefit the entire industrial sector in the state as the quality and precision needed for space projects will lift the overall approach of fabricators and engineers.

Another area that the Chamber looks to improve is the link between academia and industry. The plan is to open the labs of the spacetech firms to students who are keen to explore new areas or establish startups.

There is also a proposal to establish a private space park under the Chamber and turn it into a cluster for the aerospace industry, and Pius says they are already scouting for a suitable land for this.

If more companies are attracted to make Trivandrum their base, facilities linked to the sector will follow automatically. With Vizhinjam seaport becoming operative soon and the airport bringing more connectivity, things are bound to change dramatically in the coming years.

“We need to capitalise on this,” says Pius.



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