Investing in Space: India is the industry’s ‘sleeping giant,’ Artemis Accords expert says

Investing in Space: India is the industry’s ‘sleeping giant,’ Artemis Accords expert says

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CNBC's Investing in Space newsletter offers a view into the business of space exploration and privatization, delivered straight to your inbox. CNBC's Michael Sheetz reports and curates the latest news, investor updates and exclusive interviews on the most important companies reaching new heights. Sign up to receive future editions.

Last week, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a red-carpet visit to the U.S., meeting with top government and corporate leaders. Amid the flurry of partnerships and contracts announced during Modi's visit, the country also became the 27th to sign the Artemis Accords, the international set of principles around sustainable global cooperation in space.

The White House also announced that the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and NASA will work together toward flying the South Asian country's astronauts to the International Space Station next year. India will also invest in space research missions alongside the U.S.

India's no slouch when it comes to space, but the announcements come at a notable time: Russia is steadily fading away as a space superpower, with the sector increasingly a two-horse geopolitical race between the U.S. and China. Could India fill the Russia-sized void?

Mike Gold, who helped lead the creation of the Artemis Accords three years ago, definitively believes so:

India will not only fill the void that Russia is leaving, but will far exceed it, Gold, now Redwire's chief growth officer, told me. The capabilities of India to engage, to innovate, to support a more robust [industry], particularly commercial space, is going to far outstrip anything that Russia had ever been able to do.

Gold described India as a sleeping giant in the space world that is awakening – albeit one that's been snoring loudly. Already, the country has done so much with so little, he noted.

While India's space budget has more than doubled over the past decade, its Department of Space – which leads both civil and military missions – has just $1.6 billion allocated for 2023, a fraction of either the NASA or Space Force annual budgets.

On the private side, India ranks as fifth among countries for equity investment in space over the past decade, according to Space Capital – but still represents just 3% of the funds invested globally from 2014 to now.

Gold believes India's bureaucratic reforms in its space efforts are helping the country move faster in the sector. The nation's already flown robotic missions to the moon and Mars. But a further push toward growing its commercial market, combined with greater cooperation and investment alongside the U.S., will be transformative not just for India, but for the U.S. and the commercial space sector as a whole, he said.

No one is altering their path – we're just complementing each other relative to Artemis and the existing plans with India. And both countries will benefit greatly, Gold said.

Follow along: CNBC will be watching closely this morning as Virgin Galactic attempts its first commercial spaceflight. Check out our live coverage.

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