The first successful satellite launch by the Soviets in 1957 ushered in the space era. At initial stages, critical military applications, national prestige and enabling space exploration were the main drivers for the development of satellites and satellite launch vehicles. In later years, many civilian applications of satellites have been identified and extensively developed. Dominated by satellite communications, these civilian applications have become the main motivating forces for the present-day indigenous efforts to pursue space programmes of many other countries. As for the future prospects,this new frontier of space research promises establishing space colonies and interplanetary travel, and improving our understanding of the evolution of the universe. In the field of space applications, space-borne observations are looked upon as a very powerful and unique technique for a variety of applications spanning from weather forecasting to generation of information base relevant to sustainable development of natural resources.
India is amongst the first few countries to realise the potential of space technology and its applications. The pioneer of the Indian space programme, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, under whose chairmanship, the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was formed in 1962, had cherished a dream that India should be second to none in the application of advanced technologies like space to solve the real problems of man and society. In 1972, the Indian Space Programme was formally organised with the setting up of the Space Commission and government funding through the Department of Space.
2. SATELLITE COMMUNICATION
The potential of space technology for mass education, especially in terms of immediacy, omnipotence, visual power and outreach was recognised in the early 70's. Keeping in view the larger aspects of education, especially rural education, India undertook in 1975-76, the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE) to telecast a series of educational TV programmes on health, family planning, agriculture, adult education etc., to cover 2,500 Indian villages via the US satellite, ATS-6. It was the largest sociological experiment ever carried out in the world. The Satellite Telecommunication Experiment Project (STEP), conducted using Franco-German SYMPHONIE satellite during 1977-79, was another major demonstration of long distance satellite telecommunication application of space. India also launched its own APPLE (Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment), an experimental communication satellite, in June, 1981 using the opportunity offered by the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch this satellite on board the third developmental flight of ARIANE.
A major development took place during 1980's, through establishment of the operational Indian National Satellite (INSAT) system, for providing indigenous services in telecommunications, TV broadcasting, meteorology and disaster warning. INSAT series, commissioned in 1983, has today become one of the largest domestic satellite systems in the world, comprising five satellites. The last satellite of the second generation INSAT-2 series, INSAT-2E, was launched from Kourou, French Guyana on April 3,1999.
Work on INSAT-3 series of satellites has already begun. Five satellites in the INSAT-3 series have been planned and the first atellite, INSAT-3B has already been launched in March, 2000.
INSAT system has a unique design combining telecommunication, television/radio broadcasting and meteorological services into a single platform. The involvement of various users like Department of Telecommunication, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, India Meteorological Department enabled proper tuning of INSAT system towards identified national developmental needs.
The demonstrated space applications in SITE and STEP of the 70's were transformed to practical and operational systems through INSAT. Today, INSAT links about 450 earth stations set up in the country, including those located in inaccessible regions and off-shore islands. Besides, there are about 8,500 Very Small Aperture Terminals (VSATs), including those installed by the National Informatics Centre and private networks catering to corporate houses.
Television in India now reaches about 85 percent of its population through over 1000 TV transmitters linked via INSAT. Educational programmes for over100 hours are telecast every week. INSAT system has become a powerful tool for training and developmental education and is used by various agencies to provide continuing education, conduct in-situ training for industrial employees, social welfare personnel and training of Panchayat Raj (village governance) workers, etc.
India continues to emphasise the use of INSAT for rural upliftment. A pilot project that started in November, 1996 in a tribal district of Madhya Pradesh in Central India is now in progress to educate the tribal community on various aspects of health, hygiene, family planning, women's rights, etc. This project is being expanded to cover more villages and is expected to lead to a unique space based system that will be dedicated to the development of rural society. Similar projects are being initiated in several other states.
3. WEATHER FORECAST AND DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Indian agriculture predominantly depends on the monsoons and precise forecasting of weather assumes a great significance. A large population of the country living on the east and west-coast face devastating cyclones very frequently. Thus, precise weather forecasting and warnings on impending disasters is very important. This is the reason why India included meteorological instruments on its INSAT making it a unique multipurpose satellite system. The cloud imageries collected by the satellites and over a hundred meteorological data collection platforms installed all over the country that relay local weather parameters via the INSAT have vastly contributed in improved meteorological services in the country. The twin capability of communication and meteorological imaging of INSAT is effectively used not only to predict the cyclone tracks but also to issue warnings to the likely to be affected population. About 250 disaster warning receivers have been installed for this purpose along the cyclone-prone east and west-coast of India (Fig-1:INSAT based Disaster Warning System) . Several thousand lives have been saved by the INSAT disaster warning system by timely evacuation.
4. MANAGEMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES:
India has 3.3 million km2 land area with varied physical features ranging from snow-covered Himalayas in the north to tropical forests in south and from regions in the east receiving highest rainfall in the world to deserts of Rajastan in the west. India is also blessed with vast natural wealth but yet to be exploited fully. A coastal belt of 7,500 km has a store of rich aquatic resources. What better way can be there to monitor and manage the natural resources for a large country like India than using the powerful tool of space-based observation systems? India not only demonstrated the potential of space-based remote sensing in the 70's using data received from the US satellite, LANDSAT, but also built its own experimental satellites, BHASKARA-1 and BHASKARA-2, which were launched in June 1979 and November 1981, respectively. India became one of the few countries to develop its own operational Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS-1A) in March 1988. Today, India has the largest constellation of five remote sensing satellites, IRS-1B, IRS-1C, IRS-1D, IRS-P3, and IRS-P4 in operation. Among them are IRS-1C and IRS-1D, which are the best civilian remote sensing satellites in the world. IRS-P4 (OCEANSAT-1) launched in May 1999 is used for Ocean Resources monitoring and for understanding the atmosphere over the oceans. Two more satellites, IRS-P5 for cartographic applications and IRS-P6 for resources survey, are planned for launch in the coming years.
IRS system has brought in a sea change in India's resources monitoring and management techniques. Data from IRS is used for estimation of acreage and yield of important crops like wheat, rice, sorghum, oil seeds and sugarcane, and other applications such as forest survey, forecasting drought conditions, flood mapping and demarcation of flood-risk zones, land use and land cover mapping for agro-climatic planning, waste land mapping and their classification for possible reclamation, preparation of hydro-geo-morphological maps for locating sites for borewells, monitoring and development of irrigation command areas, snow-cover and snow-melt run-off estimation of Himalayan rivers for optimal use of water, etc. Data from IRS is also used in urban planning, alignment of roads and pipelines, detection of underground fires in collieries, marine resources survey, mineral prospecting, etc. A unique application of data from IRS is in the Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development (IMSD) which is aimed at generating locale-specific prescriptions for development at micro-level. The impact of IMSD is already seen in areas where prescriptions generated have been actually implemented. Fig-2: Integrated Mission for Sustainable Development (IMSD) and IRS series of satellites developed and launched (both procured and indigenous) by ISRO.
5. INDIGENOUS LAUNCH VEHICLE PROGRAMME
India realised quite early that sustaining the space program in the long run would depend on indigenous technological capabilities. Keeping this in view, besides building satellites, India embarked on satellite launch vehicle development in the early 70s. The first experimental launch vehicle SLV-3 was launched by India in 1980. An augmented version of this vehicle, ASLV, was launched successfully in 1992. India has now acquired a significant capability in the launch vehicle area with the successful development of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV, capable of putting 1,000-1200 kg class satellite into 820 km polar sun-synchronous orbit. PSLV is being offered to launch satellites of other countries. It launched two small satellites, one of Korea and another of Germany along with India's IRS-P4 in May 1999. More space agencies are expected to use PSLV for placing their satellites in orbit; a European satellite PROBA is scheduled for launch as a piggy back on board next PSLV.
The Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D1) had its maiden successful flight on April 18, 2001 from Sriharikota injecting the G-SAT 1 satellite into ~180 x 32,155 km geo-synchronous transfer orbit (GTO). Fig-3: Different types of sounding rockets and launch vehicles developed by ISRO.
Fig-4: List of satellites launched by ISRO so far
6. SPACE SCIENCE RESEARCH
The initial thrust for Indian space programme came from the requirement of scientists to carry out investigations in aeronomy as well as in astronomy by conducting space-based experiments. Apart from developing technologies for sounding rocket and balloon borne instrumentation ISRO has established complementary ground based facilities particularly for scientists from universities and academic institutions. The major areas of investigation in space sciences have been high energy cosmic ray variability using neutron/meson/Cerenkov monitors, equatorial electrojet and spread-F ionisation irregularities, ozone, aerosol and cloud phenomena, middle atmospheric radiation, dynamics and electrodynamics, solar physics, IR astronomy, neutron star and black hole astrophysics, planetary science and origin/evolution of life etc. Also, India has recently launched
scientific payloads to study celestial Gamma Ray Bursts and X-ray sources. For conducting atmospheric research with high resolution the Mesosphere, Stratosphere and Troposphere (MST) radar has been established at Gadanki near Tirupati. ISRO has enabled participation of scientists in major international science campaigns like monsoon experiment (MONEX), middle atmospheric program (MAP), ISTEP, INDOEX etc. by providing the financial, technological and other assistance. Fig-5:facilities available to Indian scientists for conducting space science research.
Based on the interest and request of large number of space scientists in India, a number of new proposals and activities have been initiated by ISRO. Some of the major ones include (a) ASTROSAT -a multi- wavelength dedicated satellite mission for high energy astronomy. The satellite is likely to carry soft and hard x-ray detectors and imaging payloads, all sky X-ray monitors and a UV/optical telescope system, (b) SOXS - The Solar X-ray Spectrometers payload development on board GSAT for studying solar active and flaring phenomena, (c) CRABEX: The Coherent Radio Beacon Experiment payload onboard geo- stationary satellite and a ground based chain of receivers located at various universities and research institutions for developing ionospheric tomography or 3-D models of ionisation and its structure, (d) Planetary exploration/ science: competence building in planetary science studies and also development of sensors for planetary
probes/missions to moon/asteroids or nearby planets,(e) Microgravity science/exploration programme: National workshops and meetings have been held to define novel scientific experiments for such a programme, proposals selected with potentials for space borne experiments either in a balloon drop system or in a space recovery capsule.
7. INDUSTRY PARTICIPATION
The national investment to sustain the space programme can not only provide a significant and profitable domestic market for Indian industry, but also help it acquire technological muscle to enlarge its capability for increasing the value added component in other areas and eventually capture a part of the growing international market in high technology applications. Hence India encouraged an active participation of industries in its space programme that has resulted in the industry upgrading their own technological skills. Also, as spin-off, a large number of technologies developed under space program have been transferred to industries for commercial applications. A few of the major industries have now set up exclusive fabrication divisions to meet the demands of space program. Large number of systems required on ground such as remote sensing data processing equipment, communication earth stations and terminal equipment, have opened up a fairly large market for the industry.
8. HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT
A constant induction of manpower to carry on the task of continuous research and development is another requirement to sustain the space programme. Towards this, Indian space programme has established a strong interface with academia. One of the initiatives that has been taken in this direction is the scheme of Research Sponsored by ISRO (RESPOND) under which grants for undertaking research projects on subjects relevant to space programme are selected and financially supported at universities, academic and research institutions by ISRO.
9. INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION
International co-operation has been pursued from the inception of the Indian Space programme. The establishment of Equatorial Rocket Launching Station at Thumba, conduct of space application demonstrations like SITE and STEP and launches of experimental satellite like Aryabhata, Bhaskara and APPLE, have involved co-operation with other countries including USA, the former Soviet Union, France, Germany and international space agencies. India has co-operative agreements with several countries. India has set up two Local User Terminals (LUT) and Mission Control Centre (MCC) as part of the COSPAS-SARSAT network, under the International satellite aided search and rescue programme. India also shares its experience in space applications with other developing countries by training their personnel under a program called SHARES. The UN-affiliated Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific has begun its programme at postgraduate level in Remote Sensing and Geographical Information System, Satellite Communications, Meteorology and Space Science for the benefit of persons from Asia and the Pacific Region. India has hosted the second UN-ESCAP Ministerial Conference on space applications in November 1999.
10. COMMERCIAL PROSPECTS
Even though Indian space programme is primarily directed towards establishment of space systems for national development, the capability that is built in the process has started yielding economic benefits. The setting up of an exclusive commercial front under Department of Space, ANTRIX Corporation, in 1992, for marketing hardware and services has acted as a catalyst in this endeavour. Important commercial agreements include world-wide marketing of remote sensing data from Indian satellites, lease of satellite capacity, launch of small satellites on board PSLV, supply of satellite hardware, providing tracking support for satellites using Indian ground stations and training of personnel.
11. FINANCIAL ASPECTS
India has now established a well-integrated space programme with end-to-end capabilities for the development and application of space technology for national benefits. The execution of the programme has been well orchestrated--starting with demonstration of end-use through large scale experiments, developing linkages with users, passing through experimental and developmental phases of system development and finally, establishing state-of-the-art operational systems.
That, with a modest overall expenditure of about US $ 2,400 million so far, India has built 29 satellites, developed three types of launch vehicles with thirteen flights in all so far, established an elaborate infrastructure to design, build and test communication and remote sensing satellites, their launch, and their in-orbit management as well as for data processing and application, and developed a strong manpower base for undertaking frontline R&D in space, proves that the Indian space programme has been one of the most successful and cost effective, especially, when one looks at the benefit that has accrued to the nation in terms of communication, television broadcasting, meteorological services, disaster management, resources survey and management.
As India enters the new millennium, it is necessary to sustain this programme by continuously tuning it to the fast changing requirement and updating the technology that goes into the making of these sophisticated systems. The challenges continue to grow but that is what attracts and sustains the interests of personnel working in the space programme.
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