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India Launches New Radar Satellite as It Prepares for Lunar Mission

The Indian space agency says the expected date for its latest moon mission is three years ahead of schedule.

A view of the moon from India. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/muffinn from Worcester, UK)
A view of the moon from India. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/muffinn from Worcester, UK)

India on Wednesday successfully launched a new earth observation satellite named Radar Imaging Satellite 2B (RISAT-2B) on board a polar satellite launch vehicle. The satellite will provide New Delhi with the capability to monitor the earth under any weather conditions.

According to The Times of India, RISAT-2B weighs close to 1,356 pounds and was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center located in the Sriharikota city of the southern province of Andhra Pradesh. A four-stage launch vehicle placed the satellite in orbit at a height of 345 miles above the earth.

The mission was the third successful launch carried out by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) this year and the 48th flight of the polar launch vehicle designed by the space agency. The RISAT-2B has a life span of five years and comes with numerous civil and military applications.

India has bigger plans for space this year. Earlier in May, Bloomberg reported that ISRO was planning to land on the south pole of the moon by September 6th—three years ahead of the schedule announced by Indian premier Narendra Modi. The Indian mission to the moon includes an orbiter, rover, and a lander.

The rapid development of the Indian space program has been a priority of the Modi government. Modi has given money and political backing to Indian space activities, presumably putting India in direct competition with China, and to a lesser extent, the two other space superpowers, Russia and the United States.

What Do Recent Developments in Space Mean for India?

The RISAT 2B satellite can take high-resolution images of the earth twenty-four hours a day, significantly improving India’s surveillance capabilities. In addition, the satellite is equipped with synthetic aperture radar—a technology that can penetrate heavy cloud cover to image points on the earth with very fine details.

The RISAT-2B is also a polar satellite, which means that it orbits the north and south poles of the earth, as the planet rotates under it. This provides the satellite with better coverage. It can virtually map the whole surface of the earth, as opposed to geostationary or low earth satellites. However, the angle at which RISAT-2B orbits the earth might play a role in limiting truly global coverage.

Apart from surveillance, other potential benefits of the mission include applications for the fields of agriculture, forestry, disaster management, geosciences, and meteorology, among others. Synthetic aperture radar even has the ability to penetrate the surface of the earth, which has useful applications for detecting movements like earthquakes and also of mapping geological features hidden underneath.

With regards to the lunar mission, India plans to launch a number of scientific experiments on the surface, including a study about the search for a waste-free nuclear fuel—possibly helium—which could prove to be game-changing for mankind.

The quest for an isotope of helium, which is present on earth in limited quantity, but is thought to be so abundant on the moon that it could meet global energy demands for the next 250 years. If the Indians are the ones who discover and harness it, the financial implications could be huge.

What Are the Potential Strategic Benefits?

India recently suffered a global embarrassment as it was forced to save face in a tense stand-off with neighboring Pakistan after the latter downed an intruding Indian plane, captured the pilot, and presented a video of him to the media. According to Economic Times, the new satellite launched by India will be used for monitoring activity on the border with Pakistan, potentially improving Indian data regimes.

The Indian space program is a generation ahead of Pakistan’s program. But with growing China-Pakistan cooperation in space could slowly help Islamabad bridge the gap between it and New Delhi.

How Does ISRO Compare to Other Space Agencies?

India has successfully undertaken missions to Mars and the moon. And it’s sent a significant number of satellites into space. It has also demonstrated its capability to destroy an object in space with an anti-satellite weapon.

This puts it firmly in the group of world powers that have a strong space program: the United States, Russia, China, and the European Union. As the Indian space agency plans to send men to the moon and set up an international space station, India soon will further strengthen its position as one of the leading space-faring nations in the world.

The low cost of Indian missions to space is also a significant achievement. For example, the United States approved $19 billion for a lunar mission compared to the $1.7 billion that the ISRO has requested for a moon landing. And in 2013, the Indian mission to Mars cost the government just $74 million, which was 11 percent of the money the United States needed for a Mars orbiter.

While private space companies in China, the United States, and Europe overtake national space agencies in space technology, one particularly interesting development in India will be the government drafting legislation to regulate satellite launches and commercial space activity in the coming months. The private space race could be coming to South Asia.

Usman Kabir covers science, space, and technology for Globely News. As a kid, he would make models of the solar system and take part in water rocket competitions. His childhood obsession has led him to a degree in Space Science. Usman likes to spend his free time watching reruns of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Seinfeld."

The BYD Qin on display at the Auto Shanghai show on April 21, 2013. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/El monty) The BYD Qin on display at the Auto Shanghai show on April 21, 2013. (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons/El monty)

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