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Risat-II Launch:SURVEILLANC SYSTEM GETS AN EDGE, by Radhakrishna Rao,28 April 2009 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 28 April 2009

Risat-II Launch


By Radhakrishna Rao

Quietly and without much publicity, India’s first all-weather radar imaging satellite Risat-II,  realized by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in association with  Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which has made a mark as India’s long-standing defence partner, was successfully launched  on April 20 morning. A core alone version of the four-stage Indian space workhorse PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), which had a smooth blast off from the  Satish Dhawan Space Centre(SDSC)in Sriharikota island on the eastern coast delivered the 300-kg Risat-II into orbit along with a 40-kg, microsatellite Anusat as  a co-passenger.

This precise space mission placed Risat-II into an orbit of 550-km with an inclination of 41 degree to the equator and an orbital period of 90 minutes. The core alone PSLV, featuring alternate liquid and solid fuel-driven stages and without its usual six strap on boosters strung around the first stage of the vehicle stood 44-metres tall and weighing 230-tonne. Significantly, for the first time PSLV featured an advanced indigenous mission-control computers as well as advanced telemetry systems that guided the vehicle from lift off till the injection of satellites into desired orbits.

Interestingly, this was the 14th consecutive successful mission of PSLV since it took off around 15 years ago. This trusted and reliable space workhorse has so far launched 16 Indian and an equal number of foreign satellites into a variety of orbits. PSLV is considered a versatile space vehicle since it is capable of launching satellites into a near earth orbit, polar/sun synchronous orbit and geostationary transfer orbit. In October last, an augmented version of PSLV was used to orbit India’s first lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1. Antrix Corporation, the commercial arm of the country’s space programme is busy promoting PSLV as a cost-effective launch vehicle in the $ multi-billion global market for launching satellites.

Featuring an X-band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) supplied by IAI, RISAT-II can collect data without let or hindrance even under the cover of darkness, cloud, haze and dust storms. Its’ all-weather and round-the-clock earth imaging capability is quite useful for monitoring natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and landslides. As things stand now, RISAT-II is expected to substantially enhance the country’s capability in the area of disaster management.

Moreover, because it can sense water bodies and vegetation in great details, RISAT-II data could be effectively used to monitor drought conditions, which would be a great boon. In fact, Risat-II has put India as the fifth country in the world map to posses such a sophisticated space system capable of providing data for both civilian and military applications.

Interestingly, the constellation of remote-sensing satellites operated by ISRO earlier lacked the all-weather data collection capability. “We had in the past been depending heavily on the Canadian Radarsat system for our usage. Now we will become independent with our own indigenous capabilities in having radar imaging,” said an elated ISRO chairman, Madhavan Nair.

Of course, ISRO denies the suggestion that Risat-II is a surveillance satellite which can be used for fighting infiltrators and terrorists by saying:  “In our agenda, there is no such thing as spy satellites.” However, it is candid enough to observe that in the ultimate analysis everything depends on how the end users interpret the satellite data.

Clearly, it is widely recognized that an earth observation satellite packed with a variety of sensing payloads can be used to derive data of military significance. For both surveillance and earth observation have been considered as two faces of the same coin.

Defence experts drive home the point that Risat-II data can be exploited to monitor the movement of troops along the country’s international borders and help in anti-infiltration and anti-terrorist operations. As Risat-II can sense even the “slightest shift and minor movements on the surface of the earth” it can also be used to monitor troop build-up across the border and also identify targets for attack.

In addition, it is also expected to help in keeping track of vessels and ships moving in the high seas. Well, India by now knows well that the terrorist groups, making use of sea channels, could play havoc, much the same way as the Pakistani trained terrorists did in Mumbai.

It is no secret that ISRO is known to have taken up the development of Risat-II in association with IAI on a war footing, following the fear psychosis created by 26/11. Moreover, the development of India’s own Risat-1 microwave imaging satellite with a C-band SAR and weighing 1780-kg had run into delay. Everything going as planned Risat-I will be launched before year-end. It is also expected that India will launch two more satellites built in Israel over the next couple of years.

In fact, since the massive intelligence failure before and during the short lived 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, the  defence forces have been clamouring for  dedicated earth observation satellites to beef up their surveillance and reconnaissance operations. In addition, both the Navy and the Air Force have been projecting the need for exclusive satellites for meeting their operational requirements.

In fact, in the context of India’s plan to set up a tri service aerospace command, the need for a range of satellites for variety of end uses has become all the more pronounced. Similarly, the ongoing plan of all the three wings of the Services to enhance their net-centric warfare capability implies the need for a string of high performance satellites

Risat-II is considered a shining symbol of the growing India-Israel cooperation in vital areas of space and defence. In January last, India’s PSLV had launched Israel’s reconnaissance satellite TECSAR under a commercial contract, which IAI had entered into with Antrix Corp. This satellite was said to have been put in place by Israel for keeping a tab on its neighbours, with particular reference to developments in Iran whose nuclear weapons development programme has attracted global attention. The Left parties, which have come down heavily on the UPA Government for its not so transparent deal with IAI for the joint development of a surface-to-air missile had condemned the TECSAR launch, saying it “shows how India is aiding the military efforts of Israel”. Is it worth making a note of? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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