Now, here’s an Indian space mission that might actually change the way we see our country. In a few months, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will wrap up work on Cartosat-1, a satellite with special cameras, that will re-map the country in less than 24 months — a task that till now meant decades of hard, human-intensive work.
‘‘We hope to launch the satellite using the PSLV system, some time in the first quarter of the next year,’’ ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair told The Indian Express from Bangalore.
The Rs 240-crore eye in the sky was conceptualised after consulting leading cartographers, and can capture an area as wide as 30 km in a single shot. ‘‘This is very accurate given that the images will be stereoscopic, which means that two cameras will be at work simultaneously to provide other dimensions of the terrain, including height,’’ explains Nair.
Of course, there’s the military angle too. The Defence apparatus will get its hands on accurate terrain information of inaccessible areas, mountain ranges and even certain sensitive locations.
Says former ISRO head and Rajya Sabha Member K Kasturirangan: ‘‘With the help of Cartosat, you can get the latest map of an urban settlement in a few weeks. Besides, maps can now be updated regularly, say once in five years, using the images.’’
Weighing 1500 kg, with a lifespan of 5-6 years, Cartosat-I will be lodged at a height of about 617 km with mapping capabilities that can touch the 1:5000 scale.
For better accuracy, ISRO has joined hands with the Surveyor General of India to install ground reference points (GRPs) in various parts of the country.
‘‘At present, 3000 GRPs are in the process of being installed. We hope to have all these points in place by the time the satellite is ready for launch,’’ says Nair.
Cartosat-I is expected to take almost 18 months to cover the entire country, apart from revisiting certain areas for a better picture — it can do so once in 21 days. The nearest possible mission with similar capability, according to ISRO officials, is Japan’s ALOS, which is also slated for a 2005 launch.
Nair admits that the Surveyor General already banks on satellite images for verification, but they are procured at ‘‘exorbitant costs’’ from other countries. ‘‘We will now be able to generate these images on our own and several users, particularly those planning highways, the river-interlinking project and such development activities, will benefit,’’ he says.
ISRO, Nair adds, will not stop here. It plans to launch Cartosat-II with a higher resolution after the first version has been placed in orbit.