ISRO, our Crown Jewel in Support of Armed Forces
While the media went crazy on 15 Feb breaking the news of the world record of ISRO in launching 104 satellites, the ISRO Chairman, Dr A S Kiran Kumar in a welcome show of humility, reciprocated to the avalanche of congratulatory messages by simply stating these words, “we are not into the game of making/breaking world records etc, we were just trying to utilise the opportunity that we had, and maximise the returns”. Indeed, ISRO has utilised every opportunity to make the nation proud by creating such world class capabilities that not only, have put us in the front ranks of the satellite-faring nations of the world, but also, have given a tangible fillip to our capabilities in the civilian and military domains.
To ISRO’s credit, it is pertinent to recall that in 1993, when the US turned the heat on Glavkosmos, the Russian space agency by imposing trade sanctions for its 230 Cr deal to supply cryogenic engine technology to India, the then Prime Minister, Shri PV Narasimha Rao announced in a public meeting, ‘India will build its own cryogenic engines’. That ISRO lived up to the PM’s dream despite the above and despite a two-year ban on sale of space components by US (that came in response to the PM’s statement) says volumes on the acumen of its Scientists.
Besides the much reported carriage of 104 satellites, the 15 Feb launch itself on board the PSLV C 37 had some other interesting facets as well: -
• The said mission had on board, two of its own nano satellites besides 96 from US and one each from Israel (BGUsat), Kazakhstan (Al Farab-1), Netherlands (Peasss), Swiss and UAE (Nayif-1).
• The above two indigenous nano satellites were basically in the technology demonstration/exploration mode. The first one, (INS1A) carried the surface bi-directional reflectance distribution function radiometer which will precisely measure the bi-directional reflectance and polarisation distribution functions of various types of planetary material from the ultraviolet (UV) to the near Infrared (310-4800nm). Such cosmic data will aid R&D for the future missions in many areas.
• The second nano satellite (INS 1B) carried an equipment called the Earth Exosphere Lyman Alpha Analyser. This is an electro-optics system payload that will register terrestrial neutral atomic hydrogen Alpha particles in the earth’s exo-atmospheric region for ISRO R&D and aiding future missions.
• The four-stage rocket of PSLV 37, after starting the launch of Cartosat 2 at 17 minutes (mins) 29 seconds (secs), when at 510.3 km of its journey, followed it with the launch of INS-1A and INS 1-B at 17 mins 39 secs and 17 mins 40 secs, respectively. In less than a minute thereafter, it embarked on an awe-inspiring feat of launching the balance of 101 satellites in a time of just 10 minutes and 10 secs (starting at 18 mins 32 secs and finishing at 28 mins 42 secs of its flight) with NOT A SINGLE COLLISION or mal placement!
• For the above launch, the 101 nano satellites (weight range 1.7 to 4.7 Kgs) were prepared in Quadra packs of 4 satellites each. These 25 packs were released in 28 intervals of 4-12 secs. This is a feat unprecedented in the world till date.
Some of ISRO’s other major achievements are:-
• The INSAT (Indian National Satellite) series, viz, INSAT 1A, 1B,1C and ID in multi-purpose geostationary satellites category with functional areas in tele-communications, broadcasting, meteorology and search and rescue is the largest domestic communication satellite series in the entire Asia Pacific region providing lifeline support to the Directorates of Space (DoS), Telecom, and Meteorology, besides Doordarshan and All India Radio.
• The Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) series of 11 satellites built, launched and maintained by ISRO and dedicated to earth observation, is the largest constellation of remote sensing satellites in the world today that is being orbited for civilian use.
• It is a common knowledge that ISRO (read India) became the first nation in the world to have achieved success in the very first attempt to enter the Mars orbit through its Mars Orbiter Mission (MoM).
• In the navigational field, the seven-satellite bus of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System or IRNSS (3 in geo-stationary and 4 in Geo-synchronous orbit) have had a fabulous launch regime, all in a matter of 3 years (IRNSS 1A-Jul 2013, 1B-Apr 2014, IC-Oct 2014, 1D-Mar 2015, 1E-Jan 2016, 1F- Mar 2016 and 1G- Apr 2016). Thanks to IRNSS today, with an accuracy of less than 20 m.
• The GAGAN (GPS Aided Geo-Augmented Navigation) as a part of Space Based Augmentation System (SBAS) having provided 8 Indian Reference Systems (INRES) have already become a success.
• Way back in the eighties ISRO has also been credited for the discovery of 3 species of bacteria in the upper stratosphere (27-41Km) region. One of these, named ‘Bacillus Aryabhat’, These bacteria have significant impact on cosmic radiations.
Satellite Support to the Armed Forces
Actually, there is no separate need to recount the support of ISRO for the armed forces, as the later only makes use of some of the capabilities developed by ISRO with a national perspective. That said, some salient points under the subject are enumerated below: • Towards the start of the journey (late seventies early eighties) the armed forces looked at satellite support only as spin-off benefits emanating from the ISRO’s assets already in orbit. For instance, it was the Project Director of Satellite Launch Vehicle - 3 (SLV -3); the illustrious Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, who brought the solid fuel technology to the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) and used it successfully in Agni Missile for the first time. Similarly spin off benefits were utilised from the INSAT and the IRS series.
• As time passed, the requirement of dedicated satellite support gradually presented itself as the new felt need for the Services. To this end, GSAT 7 (INSAT 4F - Rukmini) became the first geo-stationary satellite (launched in Aug 13) dedicated to the communication and the surveillance needs of the Indian Navy. This multi-band military communication satellite provides our Navy, blue water capability by providing secure and real time communications and networking support.
• It may be of interest to note that in the Theatre Level Readiness and Operational Exercise, TROPEX conducted in the Bay of Bengal in 2014, GSAT 7 networked some 60 ships and 75 aircrafts in one seamless loop with a 2000 nm footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
• With the launch of GSAT 6 on 27 Aug 2015, the Services got another dedicated military communication satellite. This satellite is capable of providing dedicated support in the areas of Defence communication, surveillance, observation and positioning thus facilitating Net Centric Warfare. (NCW). Equipped with the latest cryogenic engine stage, it features an incredibly small and ‘un-furlable’ antenna of only 6 m. This S band antenna can launch 5 spot beams on the Indian mainland at the same time using frequency re-use scheme with optimum spectrum utilisation effect producing sub-meter accuracies.
• Making their beginning as the technology experimentation satellites (TES), the Cartographic Series (1, 2, 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D that was launched on 15 Feb 17) have come a long way. These remote sensing satellites with sub-meter resolution actually are dual purpose. some of their capabilities are:-
♦Cartosat 2 features the state-of-the-art Pan Camera with a swath of 9.6 km and a resolution of 80 cms (this is about the world’s best capability). The satellite can be steered about 45 degrees along and across the track and is capable of providing scene-specific spot imagery.
♦Cartosat 2A is dedicated to the Indian armed forces providing accurate imaging of very high precision. It can send black and white pictures in the visual region of the electromagnetic spectrum.
♦ Much has been said in the open source about Cartosat 2C. It has an incredible resolution of about 60 cms; the best in the world today. Launched on the solstice day of 22 Jun 2016, the satellite with this resolution, is capable enough to accurately count the number of cars in the parking lot from as far as 562 km in space. It circles around the world every 90 mins. Another very amazing feature of this satellite is its capability to make one minute videos focussing on one single point. Imagine a satellite dashing at a speed of 37 Km in a single second and taking a one minute video of a single point of interest with a resolution accuracy of 65 cms. This is a huge, huge capability which is a great enabler for the armed forces.
• The other enabling series of the satellites are the Radar Imaging Satellites (RISAT I and RISAT II). Their signature feature is the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with a resolution of less than one meter. Such satellites are into a host of multiple missions like tracking hostile ships at sea, carrying out earth observation, flood/cyclone warning and real time monitoring, search and rescue, disaster management and more.
Optimal Resource Utilisation
Creating a capability is only one side of the coin, the other, and more important is the arrangement that needs to be put into place to ensure that the said capability is most optimally utilised by multiple users. This is true, not only for the armed forces but also, for the entire spectrum of users. Following points are stated in this context in so far as these relate to the armed forces:-
• As per open source, there is an Integrated Space Cell at HQ Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS) which is responsible for ensuring the optimal utilisation of the country’s space based assets for military use. The cell was established in Jun 2010 and is jointly operated with the reps of all the three Services besides Department of Space (DoS) and ISRO.
• The above cell not only looks into the utilisation angle but also, at the threat to our space based assets and security needs thereof. In fact, on date of the announcement of the cell, the then Defence Minister Mr Anthony, stated that the reason for establishing such a cell is because of the growing threat to India’s space based assets from counter space systems and anti-satellite systems.
• Following points are stated out of experience as regards the operation of the above said cell: -
♦ There is a need to accumulate rather than differentiate. By that it is implied, that the Service demand should be requirement-driven and not satellite driven. In other words, instead for asking for a dedicated satellite, it will be prudent to ask for specific requirements. ISRO has tremendous capability accumulated on board its multiple space assets. Only a part sharing can meet the entire Services requirement. Every time, asking for a dedicated satellite will amount to great underutilisation besides a gross waste of national resources.
♦ In the above context, it is heartening to note that the Defence Technology Roadmap for India has clearly stated the space-based requirements of the forces in imaging and communication and forms a part of India’s Space Vision 2025.
♦ While the utilisation end of the requirement is getting to addressed in a joint manner, the threat angle must always remain on the forefront. In that, it will be prudent to remember the active threat from spy satellites and anti-satellite systems besides the man-made threat from space debris.
♦ It makes operational sense to remember that the Anti Satellite Test (ASAT) conducted by China way back on 11 Jan 2007 when a kinetic kill vehicle destroyed an ageing weather satellite FY 1C in the polar orbit is now 10 years into history. Extrapolating this capability growth cycle on one full decade of the time-line, it will be a matter of critical operational analysis to examine, what capability our northern neighbour may now possess in this field.
♦ Making a switch from the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) capability into the ASAT capability is a ‘logical progression’.
♦ ASAT deterrence can only be built by comparable ASAT capability as a progression from our current BMD foot print.
A glance at the future plans of ISRO make one feel proud; very proud about this enabling jewel in our crown. A snapshot of some future projects: -
• Development of new generation of Earth Observation satellites with larger swaths and minimalistic resolutions.
• Development of new launch vehicles which will be reusable. Also, development of Unified Launch Vehicles (combining PSLV and GSLV).
• On 28 Dec, this year ISRO is all set to launch the world’s first rocket with three rovers to moon (two from Japan and one for Team Indus).
• Work on GSLV Mk III - D1 is on with a planned payload of GSAT 19 E. This satellite will carry a KA and KU band payload and a Geostationary Radiation Spectrometer (GRASP) to monitor and study the nature of charged particles and the influence of space radiation on spacecraft and electronic components. This launch which is planned in the first quarter of 2017 will make us self-sufficient in launching 3200 kg class of satellites.
• Future satellites include GSAT 9, 11, 17, 19, GISAT-1, The SAARC satellite, NISAR (the NASA-ISRO) satellite for remote sensing and radar imaging.
• ISRO’s future extra-terrestrial missions include the following: -
♦ Moon - Chandrayan II/ GSLV MkII/2018 (mission - human to moon).
♦ Sun - Aditya-1 /PSLV XL/2019 (mission to study the sun).
♦ Venus - Indian Venus Orbital Mission / PSLV XL/ 2020 (mission - to study the atmosphere of Venus).
♦ Mars- Mangalyan II/ GSLVIII/2018 (mission- mars orbiter with a lander and a rover).
♦ Jupiter - To be decided/GSLV III/2020.