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State View: Where Space drives life on Earth

SRIHARIKOTA : 24/06/2013 "The IRNSS-1A (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) undergoing checks in the clean room at Sriharikota. A PSLV-XL rocket will put it in orbit on July 1." Photo Credit: ISRO.   | Photo Credit: ISRO



At a recent meeting of navigation satellite users in Bengaluru, an idea given by R. Advay, a school boy from Chennai, called ADVAY, , provided a likely answer to one of India’s most frequent maritime issues with its neighbours.

His idea — of using satellite navigation devices to keep fishermen within Indian waters — won the top award for students. That apart, two college students came up with another award-winning idea to safeguard women and children in distress: another growing concern these days across the country.

At the crux of many such critical ideas, it transpires, is your location at that given time. Add a map, a geo-image or an alarm to a hand-held device that has a navigation receiver, and help is at hand, according to Satellite Navigation (SatNav) exponents.

“Location-based information using satellite data is becoming increasingly important both in everyday and in strategic matters; it is touching our lives through compact hand-held devices such as mobile phones,” according to A.S. Ganeshan, Director of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s SatNav Programme — the group that co-hosted the user meet.

In a modern-day war, SatNav tells where to hit and when to dodge, military scientists present there said.

ISRO has a two-pronged SatNav plan: the GPS-aided GEO augmented Navigation (GAGAN); and the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS).

Mr. Ganeshan described navigation as ‘the art of knowing where you are and moving towards where you want to go in the shortest possible time’. Satellite-aided navigation, he said, is set to positively change our lives in the coming years — touching areas ranging from agriculture, to fleet monitoring, weather prediction and locating people in distress.

“Humankind has used various navigation techniques. But the arrival of SatNav has revolutionised the world with innovative solutions that use position information. Today, without satellites, we would be lost,” he said, adding, “We will depend on them more and more as the years roll by” to tell position, navigation and time.

Government planners, emergency service providers, infrastructure companies and travellers — these are just some of the groups already leaning on precise position information from satellites. “There is no need to ask for directions any more. Thanks to SatNav, now you can simply zero in on the shop with the help of a Google or a Bhuvan map on your mobile phone.”

Ships need position information for docking, as also for harbour operations. Railways can use it to avoid collisions and for safety at unmanned level crossings. Power grids and banks must know the exact time of power transfers and money transactions.

A farmer can use fertilisers optimally and plant multiple crops, as Megha Maheshwari of ISRO’s Space Navigation Group showed with her prize-winning idea ‘Gramin’. Similarly, the flow of rivers like the Brahmaputra river, which notoriously keeps changing its course, can be tracked and people alerted against floods with SatNav-powered devices, such as a receiver on a buoy. “These devices are becoming a necessity, like wristwatches once were,” says Mr. Ganeshan. Add a communication feature to navigation and that makes a useful mix during disasters.

How will the use of SatNav unfold in the country? Mr. Ganeshan says several flagship programmes of the Government of India such as Digital India, Smart Cities and AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) can benefit from satellite-based navigation services — as a brainstorming national meeting in September showed.

Stakeholders such as chipset manufacturers, application developers, content providers and the user community are being sounded out about the opportunities. And we, the people, just need to have a device or a phone with a SatNav chip and receiver.

GAGAN enhances the values from the GPS, which is a system offered globally by the US Department of Defense. The Rs.700-crore-plus GAGAN has been jointly implemented by ISRO and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), mainly to smoothen air traffic management across the Indian skies.

Suresh V. Kibe, former Programme Director for SatNav at ISRO headquarters, who is hailed as one of the fathers of Indian SatNav, notes that the Government of India recently advertised GAGAN as a next generation infrastructure project.

Dr. Kibe, who presided over GAGAN for over a decade since the time it was conceived, says, “It is a bonus that a system such as GAGAN, which enhances safety for airlines, can also be used for non-aviation use in India.”

ISRO is building the GPS-independent, national positioning system, the IRNSS. Four satellites are up. “By March 2016, we will have the remaining three spacecraft up and complete the IRNSS constellation,” ISRO chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar recently said.

Similar to the universally used GPS, Russia has its own GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) called GLONASS; Europe its GALILEO; and China its BeiDou. Each needs its own receiver. India and these governments are encouraging manufacturers of receivers and other hardware to put all SatNav systems, along with IRNSS and GAGAN, on the same receiver to make it easier and cheaper to use. A couple of high-end mobile phones already offer the two Indian signals.

In Mr. Ganeshan’s estimate, the usage of SatNav in the forthcoming years will be phenomenal. “The socio-economic benefits of satellite-based navigation will be tremendous and create many job opportunities. By 2022, the market for GNSS receivers alone is projected to increase to about $7 billion worldwide.”

The Asia Pacific region is one of the fastest growing regions for air traffic, as predicted by the International Air Traffic Association. Considering the rapid growth of civil aviation in the world, Dr. Kibe recalls that in the 1990s, the Future Air Navigation System committee of the International Civil Aviation Organisation recommended GNSS as the way forward for airports and air controllers to manage the boom.

Citing a European SatNav market assessment Mr. Ganeshan says, “Up to 95 per cent revenue in satellite navigation is predicted to come from location-based services and intelligent transport systems. Civil aviation may account for one per cent of it.”

With ISRO expecting IRNSS signals to become common by late 2016, we may not have to wait long to see where SatNav will take us.

Locational accuracy

Satellite navigation consists of satellites that provide spatial positioning and enables hand-held devices to determine accurate position, using time signals

  • Current global satellite navigation systems

a) Global Positioning System (GPS): the most utilised system. Consists of up to 32 medium orbit satellites. Operational since 1978 and globally available since 1994

b) GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System): Consists of 24 satellites, operated by Russian Aerospace Defence Forces

c) DORIS (Doppler Orbitography and Radio-positioning Integrated by Satellite): French precision navigation system. Based on static emitting stations around the world. Limited in usage and coverage. Used with other traditional GNNS systems

  • Under development
    a) Galileo: To be managed and operated by the European Union (EU) and the European Space Agency (ESA). Expected to be compatible with the modern GPS system. Expected to be operational after 2020.


    b) BeiDou: Managed by China. Currently functional in Asia-Pacific as a 16-satellite system. To be expanded into providing global coverage by 2020
  • India has a two-pronged Satellite Navigation (SatNav) plan:
    a) GPS-aided GEO augmented Navigation (GAGAN)


    b) Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS)



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