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A rich addition to our capabilities and self reliance

Madhavan Nair

Madhavan Nair
Chairman, Indian Space Research Organisation
Secretary, Department of Space
Government of India

How do you think India will benefit from CARTOSAT-1 with respect to the Indian Remote Sensing programme?
Cartosat-1 is the corner stone of the Earth Observation Programme of India. Since its inception, Remote Sensing activities in India placed priority on issues related to optimal management of Natural Resources. It addresses agriculture, land resources, coastal zones, forestry, bio-diversity conservation, water and geological resources. Thus, Indian Remote Sensing satellites form an integral part of the vision towards National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS). In this context, we may note that there are tremendous needs for updating our maps. CARTOSAT-1 provides essential tools to update maps.

When is CARTOSAT-2 expected and what shall be the key advantages?
The CARTOSAT 2, to be launched in next six to eight months will have a capability for imaging with a resolution of 1 metre. CARTOSAT-2 will also be highly agile to be steered quickly to look at any specific direction on location around the path of the satellite. When we compare between CARTOSAT 1 and 2, that apart from resolution change, we should be aware that we are talking about two different classes of satellites – one capable of global systematic imaging and the other to look at area of interest anywhere globally. CARTOSAT -2 shall provide a value added edge in the sense that one can enhance mapping accuracies.

The uniqueness of CARTOSAT-1 is its ability of high-resolution along-track stereo imaging capability. How have been the initial reactions to CARTOSAT?
Terrain information represented in DEMs generated through stereo data of 2.5 metre resolution, provided by CARTOSAT-1, represents a unique capability currently in the globe. It has immense implications to the field of cartography, if seen in conjugation with the other multispectral products available from ISRO. The images that CARTOSAT is sending are incredibly good. Software has been developed for synthesizing the images into various products. After the test and validation phase, which we are currently in, products will be available to users soon. The users can have AOI based data products and data sets compatible for large-scale mapping. Initial reactions from all over the globe has been positive.

How does the CARTOSAT-1 compare to other satellites of the similar nature?
There is no like-to-like comparison as of today. To that extent, CARTOSAT-1 will be a trendsetter in the market. Stereo products from current high or medium resolution satellites are either expensive or can be obtained through multiple attempts of imaging. As regards to comparison with multispectral products, the current approach is to merge 1 metre panchromatic data with 4 metre colour data, which makes it expensive and there has been very limited demand. Basic emphasis for CARTOSAT-1 data is different. It will mainly address various facets of three-dimensional space in contrast to the traditional two-dimensional.

What is your strategy regarding effective usage of these data products?
National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) provides training programmes at all levels through its filial body, namely Indian Institute of Remote Sensing. The Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad is engaged in development of high-end software for applications and it provides them to Global Network of Ground Stations as well as to value adding industry. NRSA sells data to the tune of Rs.30 to 40 crores annually to the user agencies. You are aware that our users have been working in areas like drinking water, crop assessment, watershed management, survey of forest and wasteland etc. The user base is indeed vast and varied. For effective use of data of CARTOSAT, which adds a new dimension to mapping, we have developed softwares with user-friendly features. In addition, we also work with providers of commercial softwares. ISRO and NRSA have organized a GCP library to provide a variety of value added products.

There are talks of a nationwide Village Information Systems and NIUS. How do you perceive the impact on these initiatives?
The CARTOSAT data will be used in the National Urban Information Systems (NUIS) programme and many other programmes in the country. Any activity that demands a cartographic application for better results can stand to gain from the CARTOSAT. The establishment of Village Resource Centres is a programme that can benefit hugely from the CARTOSAT. Not only maps but also advisories could be developed for the villages – advisories that address water and land management, crop suitability, market information, telemedicine and adult literacy. In these and such projects, ISRO sees its role as a facilitator and enabler.

The entire country is planned to be mapped in 18 months with CARTOSAT-1. Shall this data be in public domain?
Mapping of the entire country has been ambitiously envisaged in about 18 months. However, cloud cover in a few areas may make it harder to realize data collection. It has been assessed that 100% of the mapping at a larger scale of 1:25000 is actually possible and strategies of developing this with the existing library of 3000 ground control points covering the entire country has been devised. For thematic purposes, one can go up to 5000 or 10,000 scale maps. Private sector can chip in for value addition. With respect to dissemination for public, the existing satellite data policy and recently announced map policy will be applicable depending on the nature of data products. These policies aim to strike a balance between security and development issues. Depending upon its manifestation, CARTOSAT-1 data will be both in public domain of NRSA archive and a part of databases maintained by users.

How do you see the growth of private sector in the Indian geospatial domain?
There are a few companies as of today which are highly competent in this niche sector. Both ISRO and other users have been working with almost all of these companies. They provide value-addition service. In view of expanding demands, there is good case for development of indigenous software. Also, service and maintenance of imported software have been costly.

How shall CARTOSAT contribute to ISRO in its long-term vision?
ISRO has two primary objectives. Firstly, it aims at developing high-end technology to improve quality of life for common man. Secondly, it is aimed to make us self reliant in space technology. In this respect, I would say that we have become self reliant to a great extent. And we are in the process of using space information and technology for common man. We are also working continuously towards advancing scientific knowledge for the needs of next generation.

What are India’s future plans towards navigational technologies?
A regional augmentation system to GPS called ‘GAGAN’ is already under development in India for air navigation application. With reference to the European initiative of Galileo programme, we are discussing cooperation possibilities. We are deliberating the technical contributions possible for India in Galileo. To address the needs not available through global cooperation, we also look at our own solutions.

“CARTOSAT-1 data with resolution of 2.5m and stereo capability, is potentially an excellent source of data for resource management. However, its benefits to the region will depend on how accessible the data is to the end users. That depends on the Data Policy of the satellite operators and the effectiveness of its marketing and distribution network.” – Kwoh Leong Keong, Director, Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP), Singapore

“There are increasing needs for NMOs to gain full understanding on the importance of spatial data infrastructure (SDI), its establishment, and development. For such efforts and many other developmental assistance, the use of satellite data wherever possible should be widely promoted. CARTOSAT is an important step towards this cause.” Akeno Kazuhiko, Head of International Affairs Office, Geographical Survey Institute of Japan

“The Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Department of Space needs to be congratulated for their foresight and commitment. The recently launched CARTOSAT-1 adds fillip to the IRS program with its specific technical makeup. The take up of the data products in the Asian region would largely be dependant on the distribution approach taken. Availability and set up of Ground Stations and the pricing of the products would have a definite bearing on the reach of the data products.” Peter Holland, President, Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific (PCGIAP)