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The space race: What does India stand to gain?

File photo. Photograph: (AFP)

New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 16, 2017, 12.51 PM (IST) Group Captain Ajey Lele (Retired)

 

 ISRO has created history on 15 Feb 2017.   

 

Launching 104 satellites in one rocket launch, India Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has created a world record. Creation of every new record implies the breaking of a previous one. This time India's space organisation bettered Russia's feat of sending  37 satellites in 2014.

 

India successfully put a record 104 satellites from a single rocket by ejecting all the satellites into predesignated orbit at the correct locations in around 30 minutes time. The rocket's main payload was a 714 kilogram Cartosat-2 satellite for the purposes of earth observation. 

 

Then there were 103 smaller satellites of a combined weight of 664 kilograms.  Most of these smaller satellites will serve commercial purposes and come from countries, such as the United States, Israel, Kazakhstan, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. The SanFrancisco based start-up company Planet Inc alone had 88 satellites put into the orbit, lovingly referred to as the "Dove".  

 

More than the world record, the significance of this launch should lie in the commercial and the geopolitical aspects of this launch. 

 

The Cartosat satellite is the fifth bird in the Cartosat-2 series of earth observation satellites. Before the beginning of this series, ISRO had launched a Cartosat-1 satellite during 2005. The last Cartosat 2 series satellite was launched during 2016. In the near future, one more satellite would be launched as part of this series, and then ISRO expects to launch the Cartosat-3 series. 

 

The imageries from Cartosat-2 series are meant for cartographic applications and would assist both in urban and rural applications
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As per ISRO, the imageries from Cartosat-2 series are meant for cartographic applications and would assist both in urban and rural applications. These will be useful in planning coastal land use and regulation as well as other forms of utility management, such as road network monitoring, water distribution, and in the creation of land use maps. It will also be helpful in detecting changes in the landscape, particularly to bring out geographical and manmade features. Then there would be various other Land Information System (LIS) and Geographical Information System (GIS) applications which could be derived from the launch. 

 

These satellites have an excellent resolution and, hence, could be used for strategic purposes too. The high-resolution Cartosat-2 series imagery satellite is expected to assist India towards monitoring activities that will be taking place on its international borders.

 

By successfully inducting 101 nano-satellites in space with a span of approximately 600 seconds speaks volumes about ISRO’s technical capabilities. It will be interesting to see how ISRO keeps on innovating with their most reliable space launch vehicle, the PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). The total launch duration for this was some seconds over 28 minutes. ISRO ensured that none of these satellites collided with each other and also they reached a correctly identified location. The precision achieved by ISRO is clearly praiseworthy.

 

The creation of a record could be seen to have helped ISRO, in particular, and the Indian state, in general, on two major counts. Putting 104 satellites in the orbit is a great advertisement of ISRO’s capabilities and could help commercially. This act also demonstrates the scientific progress made by India in the space area. By undertaking successful missions to Moon and Mars as well as the testing of Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV), ISRO has already established its credentials globally. 

 

Now in putting 104 satellite in space in one single mission, ISRO has shown that they are capable of working with different technologies, and to innovate with what is available to them. From Moon to Mars mission to RLV, ISRO has used PSLV every effectively. This must be a unique example in the world where one genre of launch vehicle has been used so effectively for multiple tasks.

 

Owing to the expansive growth of the Internet and other communication facilities, the need for small satellite launching is increasing from private agencies
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During last decade or so, activities of ISRO have brought many laurels to the country. Gradually, India is also making its presence felt in the international space launch market. Till date, India has launched few satellites on a commercial basis for various countries. ISRO has one of the best track record in the arena of launching satellites into low earth orbit (LEO). 

 

Also, India offers one the most cost effective launch facilities. This is attracting various national government and some private agencies towards India to avail the launch facilities. Over a period of time, India could generate reasonable revenue by making their facilities available on commercial basis like the present launch. Particularly, owing to the expansive growth of the Internet and other communication facilities, the need for small satellite launching is increasing from private agencies. There is a need for India to attract this clientele. 

 

The success with launches like 104 satellites in one single rocket launch, definitely helps India to project is capability and now there is a need to consolidate on this further.

 

Various successes achieved by ISRO over a period time has helped India to raise its stature globally. Owing to successes in fields like information technology, space, atomic energy today, India gets identified as technologically super power. In the international stage, this would help India to engage with various other states constructively. 

 

All these have both direct and indirect benefits at social, economic, political and strategic fronts and ISRO’s success should be viewed at this backdrop.

Group Captain Ajey Lele (Retired)

Group Captain Ajey Lele (Retired) is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He writes on space technology and cyber security

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