The year 2014 was a “watershed” for India’s space programme. The world was forced to take note of India’s new capabilities in space when its Mars orbiter mission Mangalyaan reached the Red Planet.
Space missions to different planets or asteroids/comets usually get visibility as these are focused on discovering the unknown, about curiosity of interplanetary and interstellar travel and knowing more on the possibility of life outside Earth.
In 2015, Isro may not provide such “wow” moments, but it might cross a critical landmark when it declares India’s own satellite navigation system operational.
This is India’s alternative to the US’ Global Positioning System (GPS). The Indian system will, however, be a regional one, and should not be mistaken as a replacement for the GPS, which is the most commonly used global system.
The Indian system is being developed mainly for India’s own civilian and strategic requirements. Depending solely on any globally available system is never a desirable option.
This is because there is no guarantee that this facility will be always available and, more important, the quality of the signal is degraded to ensure avoidance of military use. India’s adversaries like China have already developed and operationalised independent satellite navigational systems.
In 2010, Isro had proposed the development of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). This regional network will comprise seven satellites to cater to India’s various navigational requirements.
So far, three satellites have already been launched (IRNSS-1A, IB and IC). Their performance has been confirmed as satisfactory by Isro. IRNSS is expected to be operational in 2015, with the launch of few more satellites.
For a system of this kind to be fully operational, a minimum of four satellites are needed. IRNSS will provide two types of services Standard Positioning Service (SPS) and Restricted Service (RS).
SPS would be available to all users and RS, an encrypted service, would be provided only to specific users. The system has a designed lifetime of around 10 years but it could also be extended.
IRNSS will provide an accurate position information facility to users within the country and up to 1,500 km from the country’s political boundary lines.
This system will provide a position accuracy of better than 20 metres in the Indian Ocean region and less than 10 metres in mainland India.
Fifteen ground stations across India will be responsible for the generation and transmission of navigation parameters, satellite control, satellite ranging and monitoring and other tasks.
The project is expected to cost approximately Rs 1,420 crore. It is also expected that India would make the regional navigational services available to neighbouring countries: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already suggested this possibility at one of his Saarc meetings.
At present, space-based navigational systems are mainly used for rail, road, air and sea navigation. With new mobile phones in the market that offer navigational facilities, people in India are fast getting addicted to this facility, and the demand for satellite-based navigational tools is likely to shoot up in the near future.
IRNSS offers a range of applications, from vehicle tracking and fleet management to terrestrial, aerial and marine navigation to integration with mobile phones to providing assistance in disaster management.
All this indicates there is immense potential for such services in India. The satellite navigation business is a rapidly growing market and offers significant business opportunities, that India needs to look for once its own system becomes operational.
In the coming years, the usage of navigation systems will increase significantly at the domestic, regional and global levels.
A few satellite navigation market reports project that this market may grow to approximately $250 billion per annum by 2022.
Core revenues are expected to reach $100 billion in 2019. In general, new smartphone capabilities alongside integrated technologies and multiple software-based applications are expected to revolutionise this market in the near future.
The services provided by the IRNSS for India’s defence forces are expected to offer a far better accuracy than now available for the defence forces from the global navigational systems like the GPS and Russian systems like GLONASS.
Modern war fighting is all about Network Centric Warfare. Today, be it a pilot or a solider or a sailor, all of them use state-of-the-art war fighting platforms and weaponry.
They constantly get updated with the relevant information and mostly operate in a situation where real-time intelligence and other inputs are essential. And this is why India cannot afford to depend totally on services like America’s GPS.
Ajey Lele is a research fellow at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi and author of Mission Mars: India’s Quest for the Red Planet