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Issue no 51, 16-22 March 2024


India's Expanding Space Sector Offers Stellar Career Opportunities

Prateek Singh

Remember the awe-inspiring tales of Rakesh Sharma and Kalpana Chawla that fueled your childhood dreams of soaring amidst the stars? Did the ground breaking moments of Chandrayaan-3 and Aditya-L1 had you literally jumping out of your seat in excitement?

India's space programme has captured the world's attention with its groundbreaking achievements in 2023. The successful Chandrayaan-3  lunar landing on the Moon's Southern hemisphere, achieved with a modest budget of $75 million, has set the stage for a new era in space exploration.

The announcement of the Chandrayaan-4 mission, with its ambitious goal to land on the far side of the Moon and bring back lunar samples, marks a testament to India's unwavering commitment to pushing the boundaries of space exploration. Simultaneously, the Aditya-L1 mission, destined for the Earth-Sun Lagrange point 1 to unravel the mysteries of the Sun's corona, adds another dimension to India's space prowess.

As the nation rallies behind these visions and ambitions, the need for professionals to make them come true will only intensify in the coming days. The question is, are you ready to join the cosmic expedition and carve your path among the stars?

Education in Space Science and Related Fields

Now, you may wonder about the qualifications needed to journey into this career. Whether it's a degree in Aerospace Engineering for Technical Services Engineers or Avionics Technology for Avionics Technicians, the space sector beckons with opportunities for those with diverse backgrounds. The sector also accommodates candidates with degrees in various domains of engineering, physics, computer science, mathematics or related fields. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and other space organisations, including startups offer recruitment programmes, internships and research opportunities, providing a launching pad for aspiring space enthusiasts. The cosmic stage is set and the invitation to explore is beckoning-how will you respond to the call of the stars?

Embarking on a career in the space sector is an exciting and challenging journey that requires dedication and a strong academic foundation. Here are the essential steps you should consider:

High School Education: Take math, physics and chemistry as core subjects in high school. These subjects lay the foundation for understanding the complexities of space science. Develop a solid understanding of mathematical principles, the forces governing the universe and material composition in space.

Bachelor's Degree: Pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering or science. Several majors align with space science, including aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, physics and astronomy. Choose a field that aligns with your interests and passion within space science.

ISRO Centralised Recruit-ment Board (ICRB) Exam: Prepare for and take the ISRO Centralised Recruitment Board (ICRB) exam. This competitive exam, held annually, evaluates your knowledge of math, science and engineering. Successfully passing this exam makes you eligible and equipped for job opportunities not only within ISRO but the entire space sector.

Join ISRO's Research Brigade: Apply for a position as a Junior Research Fellow at ISRO. This role provides valuable hands-on experience in space science research under the guidance of seasoned scientists. It's an excellent opportunity to apply your academic knowledge to real-world projects.

Advanced Education (Master's or Ph.D.): Pursue a master's or Ph.D. degree in a related field. This advanced education will equip you with specialised knowledge and skills crucial for a successful career in space science. Consider focusing on areas such as astrophysics, planetary science, or spacecraft engineering to tailor your expertise.

Top Indian Institutes Offering Space Education

Space education goes beyond regular classrooms, making learning exciting and hands-on. In today's tech-driven world, space education teaches skills like problem-solving, innovation, teamwork and adaptability-crucial for modern jobs. It's not just about space; it opens doors to various careers like oceanography, geology, space tourism and more. Plus, it helps students see Earth's fragility and why global cooperation in space is crucial.

·         Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology: IIST is Asia's first Space University, founded in 2007 in Thiruvananthapuram. Offering programmes ranging from undergraduate to post-doctoral levels, IIST is equipped with a faculty of nearly 100, spread across seven departments. IIST operates as a residential institution located in Valiamala, approximately 20 km from Thiruvananthapuram city. The institute serves as a focal point for cutting-edge research and development in the field of space studies, contributing insights and directions for the Indian Space Programme. IIST provides a range of programmes, including undergraduate, post-graduate, Ph.D. and dual-degree offerings across seven departments: Aerospace Engineering, Avionics, Chemistry, Earth & Space Sciences, Humanities, Mathematics and Physics. In addition to traditional degrees, the institution offers dual degrees (B.Tech.+ M.Tech.) and doctoral-level programmes. PG programmes are available in both regular and sponsored modes.

·         Indian Institute of Remote Sensing: IIRS, situated in Dehradun, is a premier institute dedicated to capacity building in Remote Sensing and Geo-informatics. As an affiliate of the United Nations, it hosts the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTE-AP). Offering postgraduate education and training programmes, IIRS caters to diverse target groups, including professionals, fresh graduates, researchers, academia and decision-makers. The courses, ranging from one week to two years, cover M.Tech., M.Sc. and PG-Diploma.

·         Aryabhatta Research Insti-tute of Observational Sciences: ARIES, nestled in Nainital, specialises in Astronomy, Astrophysics and Atmospheric Sciences. It is an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. The institute's astronomical observatory opens its doors to the public during working days, offering a unique opportunity for daytime exploration and fixed moonlit nights for night viewing.

·         Indian Institute of Astrophysics: Based in Bengaluru, IIA is a premier National Research Institute focusing on astronomy, astrophysics and related subjects. It boasts a network of laboratories and observatories across India, contributing significantly to Astrosat, India's first dedicated multi-wave-length space observatory.

·         Indian Institute of Science Education and Research:  Established in 2006 across five locations, IISERs (Kolkata, Pune, Mohali, Bhopal and Thiruvanantha-puram) are autonomous institutions offering Masters and Doctoral degrees. Emphasising research, students engage in projects during  vacation periods, fostering practical learning.

·         Indian Institute of Science: IISc in Bengaluru is renowned for scientific research and higher education. It gained Deemed University status in 1958 and holds top rankings worldwide. IISc offers a diverse range of programmes and has been a trailblazer in space-related research.

·         Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astro-physics: IUCAA, an autonomous institution under the University Grants Commission, promotes active groups in astronomy and astrophysics in Indian universities. Located in Pune, it collaborates with the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, operating the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope.

·         National Centre for Radio Astronomy: Situated in the Pune University Campus, NCRA is a premier research institution in radio astronomy. As part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, it engages in diverse studies, from the Sun to cosmology, offering opportunities in radio astronomy and radio instrumentation.

·         Physical Research Laboratory: Situated in Ahmedabad, PRL, known as the cradle of space sciences in India, is a National Research Institute supported by the Department of Space. Established in 1947, it focuses on space and allied sciences, managing the Udaipur Solar Observatory and contributing significantly to cosmic ray research.

·         Radio Astronomy Centre: A part of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, RAC in Ooty is nestled in the Nilgiri Hills. It is renowned for frontline research in radio astronomy and astrophysics, providing a stimulating environment and boasting highly qualified staff.

·         Raman Research Institute: Founded by Nobel laureate C. V. Raman, RRI is located in Bengaluru. Initially privately owned, it is now government-funded, engaging in scientific research and carrying forward the legacy of its illustrious founder.

Admissions to these institutes are merit-based, adhering strictly to government reservation policies. They consider scores in national-level entrance exams such as JEE Main, JEE Advanced, GATE, etc.

ISRO-Academia Connect

ISRO actively promotes collaboration with academic institutions for research endeavours. Interested entities can engage with ISRO centers for joint research activities in focused areas. Two primary modes of engagement include:

1.         Sponsored Research: ISRO identifies specific research areas in space and invites proposals from qualified academic institutions.

2.         ISRO Cells: ISRO has established cells in premier engineering institutions to facilitate joint research. Space Technology Cells (STC) at IITs and IISc focus on advanced research, Space Technology Innovation Centres (STIC) at NITs emphasise entrepreneurial projects and Regional Academic Centers for Space (RAC-S) at NITs encourage collaborative regio-nal space projects. Additionally, various centers of excellence, innovation centers and space science centers are instituted to boost space research.

Furthermore, recognising the importance of a widespread academic interface, ISRO has initiated several capacity-building programmes to enhance academia's involvement in ISRO programmes. These initiatives encompass Sponsored Research (RESPOND), Regional Academic Centers for Space (RAC-S), Space Technology Incubation Centres (S-TICs), Space Technology Cells (STC), Space Innovation Centre, ISRO Chairs, Centre of Excellence on Advanced Mechanics of Materials, Satish Dhawan Centre for Space Science and Centre for Nano Science & Engineering (CeNSE). Each programme is tailored to achieve specific objectives, such as fostering entrepreneurship among students (S-TIC), motivating academicians to tackle challenging problems (ISRO Chairs) and enhancing an institute's  overall research aptitude in the space domain (RAC-S).

Career Opportunities in Space are as Vast as the Universe

If you thought of becoming an astronaut or space scientist was too far-fetched, think again. The space sector is not confined to the hot seats of the spacecraft; it's a vast universe teeming with diverse career prospects. The sector is fiercely competitive yet offers impactful roles are as vast and intriguing as the cosmos itself. While the contributions of Satellite Engineers, Spacecraft Engineers, Ground Station Engineers, Remote Sensing Scientists, Astrophysicists and Space Data Analysts are pivotal, the space domain now en-compasses a myriad of alter-native vocational avenues as well. Technical Services Engi-neers, Aircraft and Avionics Technicians, Aerospace CNC Machinists, etc. are job roles that are as crucial and in demand. Even more general roles like electricians, accountants and administration managers find their place in this celestial realm.

Opportunities in the Fledgling Private Sector

India's space sector is poised for unprecedented growth, with a valuation of $9.6 billion in 2020, contributing 2%-3% to the global space economy. Anticipated to reach $13 billion by 2025, India aims to capture nearly 10% of the global space economy by 2030. The coming decade will significantly boost the space industry, driven by public-private partnerships, a thriving start-up ecosystem and increased private sector participation in space commercialisation and deep space explorations.

With over 400 industrial firms, ranging from large conglo-merates to SMEs, currently collaborating with ISRO, the Indian space sector is evolving rapidly. ISRO's agreements with four countries for launching foreign satellites, with potential revenue of $141 million, show-case India's growing prowess in commercial space activities.

With a total investment of $1.2 billion in the next five years, the NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the exclusive public-sector aggregator, aims to boost industry participation and commercial activities in the space sector. Indian startups, once sparse in the space domain, have burgeoned to 189 in 2023, attracting a total funding of $124.7 million. Space co-operative agreements with 61 countries and five multilateral bodies further exemplify India's global collaborative efforts.

Indian Space Policy 2023 policy emphasises the private sector's critical role in the entire value chain of the space economy. The new Foreign Direct Investment norms offer new avenues for investments and technological support. As private sector involvement intensifies, India's space sector not only promises exponential growth but also emerges as a key generator of employment opportunities, propelling the vast domain of space exploration into a new era of possibilities.

Opportunities in Civil Administrative Domain

2023 witnessed not just astronomical achievements but also a strategic repositioning of India's space policy. The space policy delineates a clear focus on developing and supporting the commercial space sector. The Department of Space, operating under the Prime Minister's Office, emerges as the policy-making and implemen-tation nucleus, while the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) dedicates itself to research and development. The NewSpace India Ltd (NSIL) takes center stage, tasked with commercialising space technologies and platforms generated through public expenditure. The Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe) steps into the limelight as the singular window authorisation center for both public and private sector space endeavours. This streamlined approach is not only a testament to India's commitment to fostering innovation and collaboration in the space sector but also indicates the manpower requirement that will be needed to run these organisations while keeping up with the rapid expansion of the sector.

Opportunities in Defence Space Applications

It is not just the civil institutions that are evolving; the military dimension of India's space capabilities is also undergoing a transformative shift. In 2019, the Defence Space Agency and Defence Space Research Organisation were established, marking India's foray into creating its version of a space

force. There is an official proposal by the Indian Air Force to be remained as "Indian Air and Space Forces," signaling a strategic shift, emphasising the critical role of space in national security. The IAF has clearly identified space as vital for

both tactics and strategy, encompassing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Precision, Navigation and Timing (PNT), military communication, nuclear comm-and and control, missile tracking, electronic warfare, battle management and training.

Sector Future of India's Space

India's trajectory in space exploration has taken a momentous leap with its ambitious Space Vision 2047 Roadmap, unveiled in 2023. This plan outlines a series of groundbreaking missions, transforming India into a formidable force in the global space arena. From flexible COMSATS by 2025 to space mining by 2047, India envisions a strategic roadmap that includes quantum and optical communications, a human spaceflight programme, reusable heavy launchers, fully reusable vehicles, space-based strategic deterrence, manned lunar missions, interplanetary networks and space mining. The roadmap spanning 2025 to 2047 underscores India's commitment to advancing space tourism, global space data solutions and positioning itself as a global space manufacturing hub.

Furthermore, India has strategically realigned its international partnerships in the space sector including those with the United States and within the BRICS group. Joining the U.S.-initiated Artemis Accords, India emerged as the sole signatory with lunar landing capabilities. The accord encompasses increased space co-operation, astronaut training, joint efforts with the International Space Station and strengthened commercial space ties.

India has also proposed the concept of a BRICS satellite constellation and space exploration consortium. Further commitments were made in a joint statement during the G-20 summit, establishing a working group for commercial space collaboration and advancing planetary defence.

India's newfound strategic clarity, as highlighted in the 2023 Space Policy and the Space Vision 2047 and the signing of the Artemis Accord, positions the country to bridge the gap with other space powers. This accelerated growth will require millions of highly skilled professionals, including scientists, engineers, astronomers, astronauts, astrophysicists and space entrepreneurs, to expand the horizons of the Indian space industry.

(The author is a NEET/JEE Coach. Feedback on this article can be sent to

Views expressed are personal.