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Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan- Satellites and National Security

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Rajya Sabha TV: Security Scan- Satellites and National Security




On 15th February 2017, ISRO established a world record when it successfully launched as many as 104 satellites from a single rocket. ISRO has done the country proud and needs to be commended for the profile and credibility it has acquired and that too in a very cost effective manner. The world’s first satellite was launched in October 1957; 60 years ago by former USSR which was Sputnik I. In early 1958, the United States responded by launching Explorer I and the space race had thus begun.


Given the linkages between rocket technology and missiles on one hand and the relevance of satellite surveillance in nurturing strategic deterrence, India is relatively a new entrant to the space domain. The first Indian satellite Aryabhatta was launched with Soviet assistance in 1975. ISRO has made impressive strides in a relatively short period overcoming many challenges and technology denial regimes. Globally, the United States has invested about 40 billion US dollars in the space sector, China 6 billion, Russia 5 billion, Japan under 4 billion and India has spent just about 1.2 billion dollars till date. Currently the total number of operation satellites worldwide are under 1550 and this includes 104 satellites launched by ISRO recently. The United States leads the global satellite ladder with the total of 576 of which 146 are used for military purposes. Today satellites are an integral part of communication, development and national security spectrum and India has prioritized the space sector in its overall national endeavor.The world record was earlier held by Russia when they had put 37 satellites in space till India’s record on 15th February 2017 on a single launch. Most of the satellites weighed between 4-10 kgs.

Achievements of ISRO:

The Cartosat-2 series satellite is the primary satellite carried by PSLV-C37. This satellite is similar to the earlier four satellites of the Cartosat-2 series. After its injection into a 505 km polar Sun Synchronous Orbit by PSLV-C37, the satellite was brought to operational configuration following which it began providing regular remote sensing services using its Panchromatic and Multi-spectral cameras. The imageries from Cartosat-2 series satellite will be useful for cartographic applications, urban and rural applications, coastal land use and regulation, utility management like road network monitoring, water distribution, creation of land use maps, change detection to bring out geographical and manmade features and various other Land Information System (LIS) and Geographical Information System (GIS) applications. It is supposed to give pictures with resolution less than a metre and has the capability of monitoring what activities are happening across the borders by India’s hostile neighbours. Change detection will be possible with those images.

Post 1991 Gulf War, people have understood the importance of satellite technology for military capability. Satellites are important at three levels; navigation, communication and remote sensing. Cartosat-1 had only one satellite and Cartosat-2 series has got 5 satellites now. After one more satellite, India will move to Cartosat-3 series. GPS has been used very effectively in war strategies. Right from movement of aircrafts to ships and also for weapon delivery, accurate navigational inputs are required. As far as communication is concerned, satellites are supposed to be the best communication systems available at present as it is very difficult to breach such communication. INSAT satellites have been very effective here.

In June 2010, there was a proposal to set up an Integrated Space Cell with a view to optimize the use of satellite capability of the country for military use. For multiband military communication, satellites like GSAT-7 or INSAT 4F were launched in 2013 dedicated to Indian Navy. NAVIC is navigation satellite series which gives a very high accuracy for real time positioning. There is a whole range of satellites for earth imaging capabilities in any weather condition. The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is a joint project between NASA and ISRO to co-develop and launch a dual frequency synthetic aperture radar satellite. The satellite will be the first radar imaging satellite to use dual frequency and it is planned to be used for remote sensing to observe and understand natural processes of the earth. The RISAT series are the first all-weather earth observation satellites from ISRO.

ISRO is a public funded organization. It does not need to pay any dividend to shareholders. Western countries have private players involved where they need to pay dividends to the shareholders. This causes rise in cost of those countries drastically. The ecosystem in India is of low cost as compared to western countries such as the payments given to the scientists. The projects are carried out in ISRO in a holistic manner which further reduces cost.

However, management of space in space is becoming a very difficult issue. Space debris has been a talked about issue. It is not only about satellites because when it is launched, the remaining portions of rockets also remain and revolve around. The Kessler syndrome is a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade where each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions. There are some mechanisms which are there and have been accepted globally. Though these are not legally binding but are being followed as space debris mitigation guideline. Space situational awareness mechanism is important which will require satellites, navigation system and telescopes to club all the data together which will help to know the exact movement of the debris. Right now, US has  a mechanism like this and they on an open source provide this data to everybody.


Surveillance and intelligence gathering is an integral part of military capability. In the emerging technology driven kind of warfare that is coming up, it is expected that different countries will invest in space cyber continuum to enhance their national security capabilities in a holistic manner. India has a complex and contested security challenge and the space sector offers some opportunities to maximize existing competence and arrive at innovative options. The ISRO success story has a large scope to move towards launch of heavy satellites in the next phase apart from investing in human resources and national ecosystem will help in moving India forward in space.