Bangalore: As part of an effort to increase its ability to map the country through satellite imaging, India plans to create a chain of nine earth observation satellites which will be used for civilian applications such as identifying potential fishing zones or mapping streets in cities.
Fishing for images: A satellite image of Bangalore as seen from Cartosat-2, an IRS satellite launched by Isro in January last year.
They will be placed in the so-called low earth orbit or around 700km above the earth’s surface by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). The agency will launch the satellites, also known as remote sensing satellites, over the next five years beginning June with Oceansat-2, a satellite that has devices that can track wind velocity on the surface of the sea and which can be used to identify fishing zones.
Th launch of these civilian satellites will be preceded by the launch, in February, of Cartosat-2A, a satellite that will be used for defence purposes and which will have a camera that can shoot images as small as a bicycle on the road, using a PSLV rocket.
“There’s stress on (launching) satellites for monitoring ocean and atmosphere (activities in) next five years,” said V. Jayaraman, director of Isro’s earth observation systems.
Currently, India has 10 operational remote sensing satellites including Cartosat-2, which beams high resolution images that Isro’s commercial arm Antrix Corp. Ltd plans to sell to users, including the US government, whose internal security agencies need such information.
Isro is building Cartosat-3, a satellite that can shoot images as small as a cat (a resolution of one-third of 1m; Cartosat-2 has a resolution of 1m).
India’s focus on using satellites to monitor atmosphere and climate change is welcome as the country has been lagging behind others in terms of contributing to the science and geophysical parameters obtained through satellites, said Santhosh Seelan, professor, department of space studies at the University of North Dakota in the US.
India and France are jointly working on two satellites, Saral and Megha Tropiques, to track climate changes in the ocean and the tropics. Isro is building a family of radar imaging satellites that carry synthetic aperture radars, all-weather imaging sensors that are capable of taking images in cloudy and snow-covered regions.
“The data (from Indian satellites) is being routinely used for many applications around the world, the benefits of which are certainly enormous, but hard to quantify,” said Seelan, a former space scientist with Isro.
A study by the Madras School of Economics at Chennai has estimated that IRS satellites have earned four times the amount invested on them through their contributions to four national programmes in areas such as water resources, forest cover and urban planning.
The study showed that Isro spent Rs2,129.68 crore in terms of book value till 2001 in launching and operating remote sensing or earth observation satellites that can map the country’s topography and identify water, forest cover and wasteland. Book value is an accounting system practised by government departments that does not factor in inflation or price increases on projects executed over many years.
According to the study conducted by U. Sankar, a professor at the school, the benefits of these projects amount to Rs8,852 crore. The study was released in 2007, but was commissioned in 2004 by Isro.