India Joins The Elite Satellite Navigation Club

The Indian Space Research Organisation has successfully launched its seventh and final navigation satellite, bringing India a step closer to independent satellite navigation.

AsianScientist (Apr. 29, 2016) – The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has successfully launched and inserted into orbit its seventh and last Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) navigation satellite yesterday from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh. The rocket was launched on schedule at 12:50 pm local time, with the satellite being inserted into its allocated geostationary orbit shortly after.

The ~1,400 kg satellite, dubbed IRNSS-1G, completes the nine-satellite constellation designed to bring independent satellite navigation to the Indian subcontinent. The first, IRNSS-1A, was launched on July 1, 2013. Currently, two backup satellites are stored on Earth, which will be launched in the event of failure of any of the seven active satellites in orbit.

Once IRNSS-1G is fully operational by June 2016 as planned, India will join a growing list of nations who are vying for satellite navigation, free from the constraints of the aging, military-controlled American GPS system.

In fact, although India had been planning its own home-grown satellite navigation system for some time now, denial of access to GPS technology by America during the 1999 India-Pakistan Kargil War accelerated India’s need to have such a system.

Unlike the GPS network, which uses satellites in medium earth orbit to give a wide coverage, the IRNSS system features three satellites parked in geostationary earth orbit and four satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Geosynchronous means that these satellites ‘follow’ the earth’s rotation and return to the exact same position after a period of roughly a day. To observers on Earth, this movement will appear as a figure eight in the sky.

The geosynchronous satellites allow for greater coverage of the Indian region, as they will be able to ‘see’ further than the three equatorial satellites due to their motion. All in all, according to the ISRO, the entirety of India will be covered with an extra 1,500 square kilometers beyond India’s borders. Indeed, the entire network can operate with just four satellites, but the additional three improve accuracy and coverage.

In terms of cost, India has once again demonstrated its ability to get space projects off the ground at a fraction of the cost of traditional space nations. All in, the cost of all seven satellites has been quoted at Rs 1420 crore (~US$212 million) by ISRO officials. In total, the cost for India to design, launch and have a soon-to-be fully functional satellite navigation system has come in at a little over US$350 million.

Compare that figure to the cost of the European Galileo Navigation System, which has been estimated anywhere between 3.5-5 billion Euros—and counting. Galileo still hasn’t began operations and won’t be fully operational until 2019. To put that into perspective, ISRO has managed to design, launch and soon operate a fully functional system, for less than the price of the cost overruns of the European project.

Just like the Mangalyaan mission, which saw the launch of a Mars probe for the same cost per kilometer as an Indian taxi ride, ISRO has again demonstrated their ability as a budget-conscious space agency, capable of delivering perfectly viable space missions without much of the financial baggage of the bigger players.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Indian Space Research Organisation.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Phillip Keane has a bachelor degree in aerospace engineering from Coventry University, UK, and an MSc in Space Studies from International Space University in France. He loves all things space and science fiction.

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