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India becomes 6th nation to enter the GPS satellite space
Ajay Lele  6th Jul 2013

India’s first navigational satellite IRNSS-1A, using its most reliable polar satellite launch vehicle PSLV-C22.

n the night of 1 July, ISRO successfully launched India's first dedicated navigational satellite IRNSS-1A, using its most reliable polar satellite launch vehicle PSLV-C22. This launch marked the first step towards the development of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), a constellation of seven satellites required to provide a regional navigational coverage. With this successful launch, the Indian space agency becomes the sixth in the word to venture into the arena of space based navigational system.

The basic purpose behind any space based navigation system is to identify the location of an object on earth and gathering information about it in real time. On ground these inputs are made available to the user in varying formats depending on the type of the receiver used. These inputs could be projected as a moving display or a digital information display, providing basic information in respect to latitude, longitude, altitude (elevation), and in some cases additional information like direction and speed. Such navigational systems are useful both for civilian and military purposes.

For many years the United States' Global Positioning System (GPS) has been singlehandedly dominating the global space navigational market. GPS services were available since early 1970s and the system was initially developed for assisting the US military. Today, apart from the US system the only other globally available system is the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) of Russia. However, this system was only partially operational for almost the last two decades because the Russian government was not able to provide adequate financial support. The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing its own navigational system called Galileo but the progress is slow due to financial constraints. The most remarkable investment into the space navigation sector has been made by the Chinese. They are developing a global constellation called Compass (Beidou) and presently the system has been declared operational over the Asia Pacific region.

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The basic purpose behind any space based navigation system is to identify the location of an object on earth and gathering information about it in real time.

For any navigational system, a minimum of three satellites are required to begin limited operations, while to provide global coverage, a constellation of minimum 24 satellites is required. Apart from India's IRNSS, the other constellations like GPS/GLONASS/Galileo/COMPASS are meant for global operations and have provisions (or have plans) for about 26 to 35 satellites each. Japan is also developing a three to four satellite regional system called the Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS). India appears to have made smart investments based on its immediate needs. Today, broadly India's strategic area of interest could be viewed as a region extending from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits. It's obvious that India's interests are regional and from that perspective she has made limited investments. India is developing a unique system consisting of satellites mostly in the geostationary orbit (36,000 km above the earth's surface). Various space navigation satellites by other states are normally placed in a medium earth orbit (MEO). The Indian system is expected to provide an accuracy of about 15 to 20 meters. The entire system is expected to become operational by 2015 and subsequently four more satellites could be added into this to augment its efficiency and range. Also, this system is expected to be compatible with the US GPS.

For India, making inroads into the navigation sector is not only about developing a new facility, but also about announcing technological capabilities which are second to none in the space arena. It is also about making inroads into the global navigational market. Lastly, it is not just restricted to empowering the strategic establishment alone, but extends to the citizens to avail such facilities. IRNSS is going to equally benefit many, from the airlines and shipping industry to an autorickshaw moving on roads.

Ajay Lele is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), New Delhi.

 
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