Bangalore: The Indian space agency’s inability to market its high-quality satellite images or meet basic customer expectations such as standard pricing and timely delivery is curtailing their usage in geophysical applications, experts and clients say.
Poor policy: Delays in receiving images, inconsistent pricing and poor customer care have forced clients such as SatNav to shift allegiance.
For nearly a decade, SatNav Technologies Pvt. Ltd, which makes navigation maps for Nokia phones and other direction-finding products, bought satellite images from the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), a unit of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), for satellite image processing and distribution.
But in October, SatNav signed a deal with the Survey of India, the official cartographic agency.
SatNav’s founder and chief executive Amit Prasad, who has also used data from global firms such as DigitalGlobe Inc. and GeoEye Inc., said Isro’s images were on par with their products or even better. But delays in receiving the images, inconsistent pricing and poor customer care from NRSC forced him to shift his allegiance.
“There is no clear policy from the top (at Isro) to sell these images commercially,” said Prasad. “So people have very little incentive to market it.”
Data from public-funded Landsat satellites in the US is free for users and can be accessed on the Web, but clients have to pay for images from private firms such as GeoEye and DigitalGlobe.
In April, Isro plans to launch Cartosat-2B, a satellite that can snap high-resolution images of 0.8m, or a scooter on the street. It will join a group of 10 existing Indian remote sensing, or IRS, satellites in orbit, whose data is used for applications as diverse as identifying water in barren regions, locating potential fishing zones in oceans, monitoring weather, climate research, crop harvest, forestry and urban planning.
By 2020, Isro plans to add eight more satellites in the lower orbit, about 700km above the earth.
About 45,000 images with spatial data are generated by IRS satellites every year, according to NRSC. The agency has been offering them online since 2009 through its portal Bhoo Sampada. It also offers Bhuvan, a virtual globe and geographic information application similar to Google Earth.
“That data is being dowloaded in thousands. Because the products are available digitally, we cannot draw (a) comparison,” said V. Jayaraman, director of NRSC.
He admitted that its data implementation policy could delay the delivery of some products. “We are still a government entity; procedures that are adopted can contribute to delay. But once the processed data is available, it is put online in less than two hours,” he said.
Analysts said Isro could do more to boost the utilization of IRS products.
Vinay Sehgal, a professor of agricultural physics at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, or IARI, said the use of Isro’s satellite images by private sector agencies and academia was limited.
He clarified this was his personal view and not that of his organization.
“I hope in the years to come, with (a) range of resolutions available and lower prices, many private sector projects, whether small or big, will be utilizing remote sensing data from our satellites—and that would be the real success of our civilian remote sensing programme,” he said.