|Remote Sensing|| |
The US Defense Department intends to reduce planned purchases of commercial satellite imagery in 2013 as part of a broader initiative aimed at reducing US military expenditures by USD 259 billion over the next five years, according to the Pentagon planning document, Defense Budget Priorities and Choices. On the hand, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) budget is classified, meaning it will not release details of its 2013 funding request for commercial imagery.
The US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta observed, “The forthcoming request will total USD 525 billion and reflects numerous force structure and other changes that the administration deemed necessary in light of a changing strategic and budgetary environment,” said. Earlier, Panetta unveiled new strategic guidance that he and other defence officials say drove the decisions that went into the budget request. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the Pentagon must cut planned spending by USD 487 billion over the next decade.
Scientists help farmers by tracking microclimate
Scientists in Israel developed a way of using satellite images to help farmers detect small-scale changes in climate and improve their harvests. Uri Dayan, a climatologist from Hebrew University; and Itamar Lensky, Head of the remote sensing laboratory at Bar Ilan University; explained that this new method uses real-time thermal images made available from NASA and then analyses the surface temperature of each plot at a fine scale. Once the scientists find a partner for development, a global interface to guide farmers could be up and running in a couple of years. The system will improve as satellite pictures are taken with higher resolution, they stressed.
Ex-ISRO chief, three other scientists barred from government positions
: In an unprecedented disciplinary action, four of the biggest names in the space community, including former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair, have been barred from occupying any government position — current or in future — for their role in the Antrix-Devas deal, in which a private company was accused to have been wrongfully allotted S-band frequencies for radio waves.
In addition, A Bhaskarnarayana, former scientific secretary in ISRO; K R Sridharmurthi, former managing director of Antrix which is the marketing arm of ISRO; and K N Shankara, former director in ISRO’s satellite centre, are the others who have been penalised, according to an order issued by the Department of Space.
The order, sent to all Secretaries of the Government of India and Chief Secretaries of state governments and Union Territories, says that these “former Officers of the Department of Space shall be excluded from re-employment, committee roles or any other important role under the government”.
Further, the order states that “these former officers shall be divested of any current assignment/consultancy with the government with immediate effect”. Ministries and departments concerned have been asked to communicate necessary action taken towards the same to the Department of Space.
The controversial deal involved a contract that Antrix Corporation — whose mandate is to market technologies developed by ISRO — had signed with Bangalore-based Devas Multimedia in 2005. The multi-million dollar deal gave Devas bulk lease — 90 per cent — of transponders on two yet-to-be-launched satellites for supporting a range of satellite-based applications for mobile devices through S-band frequencies. For this, the company was given access to 70 MHz of the 150 MHz spectrum that ISRO owns in the S-band.
The Cabinet approved the building of these two satellites — GSAT-6 for INR 269 crore and GSAT-6A for INR 147 crore — in 2009. The cost of the launch of satellites was to be INR 350 crore. Interestingly, the Cabinet was not informed that these two satellites were meant to be used by Devas, a fact admitted by ISRO.
Following allegations that the contract was awarded to the company without competitive bidding, ISRO had set up a committee to review the contract in November 2009, soon after Radhakrishnan had taken over as ISRO chairman from Madhavan Nair.
On the recommendations of that committee, the deal had been scrapped. Devas has gone to court against that decision and the matter is pending in court.
While deciding to scrap the deal, ISRO was also guided by the fact that strategic and societal needs of the S-band spectrum had changed radically from 2005 when the contract was signed, and therefore, it was not imprudent to hand over such a large band of spectrum to a private company.
India soon to launch radar satellite RISAT-1
Indigenously developed radar satellite RISAT-1, which can take images of the earth in all weather conditions, would be launched anytime after March 15, 2012. In addition, the first regional navigation satellite system is also scheduled for launch in 2012, according to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Radhakrishnan. The 1850 kg RISAT-1, earlier slated for launch last year onboard PSLV-C19, would be a major milestone for the country and a boon for regions perennially under cloud cover. Besides use in the agriculture sector, the RISAT-1 satellite’s all weather capability to take images of the earth could also be used to keep an eye on the country’s borders round-the-clock and to help in anti-terrorist and anti-infiltration operations, he said.
The ground testing for GSLV-Mk III, which can lift four tonne spacecraft, was on and its launch would be finalised by May or June this year, Radhakrishnan added. On the other future launches, he informed that communication satellites GSAT-10 and GSAT-7 are scheduled for launch in 2012.
GSAT-14 onboard indigenously developed Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV-D5) was also scheduled for launch this year, the ISRO chief stated.
Jean-Jacques Dordain Director-General of European Space Agency (ESA) threatened to cancel the planned 2013 launching of a series of earth observation satellites (Sentinel satellites) co-financed with the European Commission (EC) unless the commission commits to financing their operation beyond 2014. At a press conference at ESA headquarters, Dordain said the agency has retained legal ownership of the Sentinel 1A, Sentinel 2A and Sentinel 3A satellites until they are in their operating orbits. As the sole owner, he added, the ESA has no need to seek EC’s approval to leave the spacecraft on the ground. The Sentinel satellites are part of Europe’s multibillion-dollar Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme, on which ESA and the EC have together spent approximately EUR 2.3 billion (USD 3 billion).
ESA was charged with designing and launching the satellites, with the commission to take over the programme and finance its operations and future development. The commission estimated that it will cost approximately EUR 5.8 billion to maintain and operate GMES between 2014 and 2020. That plan came unhinged in mid-2011 when the commission decided to remove GMES from the multiyear budget it is preparing for 2014 to 2020. In November, the commission proposed that the 27 European Union (EU) nations agree among themselves to fund GMES, with contributions based on each nation’s gross domestic product.
ESA and individual EU governments, as well as prospective GMES users, have been sharply critical of this scenario. They say that by making GMES an intergovernmental programme requiring a fresh set of agreements among nations, the programme’s future has been cast into doubt. ESA’s 19 member governments and the European Council, representing the EU’s 27 government members, reiterated these concerns in December 6, 2011, resolution.
Draft guidelines for procurement of geospatial products
Vietnam to launch first EO satellite in 2017
With Japanese aid, Vietnam will launch its first earth observation (EO) satellite in 2017 and second in 2020, according to Shohei Matsuura, senior advisor with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Hanoi, Vietnam. Japanese experts are helping Vietnam in a bid to help the South-East Asian country minimise adverse impact of climate change and natural disasters. Last November, Japan announced that it will provide a 40-year loan of about USD 93 million (7.2 billion Japanese Yen) to Vietnam for equipment and capacity development connected to the bilateral satellite initiative.
China launched Ziyuan III, a high-resolution remote-sensing satellite, for civilian use from its Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province. According to a statement from the centre, the satellite aims to aid the country’s land-resources surveys, natural-disaster prevention, agriculture development, water-resources management and urban planning.
The satellite, weighing 2650 kg, entered an orbit of 500 km above the Earth about 12 minutes after it was launched. It has a designed life expectancy of five years. It was developed and produced by the China Academy of Space Technology, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
Innovative Analytics and Training, LLC released an independent study on alternative futures for US commercial satellite imagery in 2020. The study was sponsored by the National Environmental Satellite, Data and Information Service (NESDIS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), within the US Department of Commerce, posited three alternative futures for US commercial satellite imagery in 2020. The study was started in late 2010 and includes research conducted up to April 2011. The 2020 timeframe was chosen to reflect the dynamic changes in global thinking and global markets about this topic.
At the outset, the study provided detailed review of relevant US policy, legal and regulatory developments from the 1970’s to 2010. Following a discussion about current remote sensing technology developments, the study posited three alternative remote sensing futures in the 2020 timeframe, with an emphasis on high-resolution electro-optical firms like Digital Globe and GeoEye:
1) US Commercial Satellite Imagery is A Thriving Business;
2) A Slow Growth Business, Still a U.S. Government Appendage;
3) Failure as U.S. Government Funds Erode and Competition Grows.
Moreover, readers should note that by definition, none of these futures is ‘correct’ nor reflected a prediction or preference of any kind. Alternative futures methodologies were designed to identify plausible futures and their underlying factors and drivers, in such a way so that decision-makers could understand important directions on an issue, including those that merit a change in strategy in order to mitigate or avoid futures with negative outcomes or consequences.
The report concluded with a number of independent observations on the future role of the Department of Commerce and NOAA in the governance of space-based remote sensing. For both US and foreign remote sensing countries, space policy and regulation is becoming less relevant (but not irrelevant) to governance of remote sensing as the data is fused with other data sets and incorporated into a broader set of public and commercial applications.
Three appendices are included at the back of the report. The first highlights key areas of remote sensing policy and regulation and how they might be re-considered for the 2020 timeframe. The final two map European and Japanese approaches to remote sensing over the past decade. Here, the reader might take note in the comparative approaches, or the extent to which key US assumptions about foreign behavior were correct, incorrect, or stimulated unintended consequences.
Australia joins fight against space debris
Australia backed a proposal to minimise ‘space debris’ circling the planet. The plan has been put forward by the EU, and calls for an international code of conduct for outer space activities. The code will aim to prevent both accidental and deliberate damage to satellites and other space objects, which creates long-lived debris and poses risks for crucial space-based infrastructure.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said Australia, like all nations, depends more and more on space-based infrastructure for its security, prosperity and lifestyle. “Everything from aircraft and ship navigation, to electronic commerce, communications, climate monitoring and disaster management, not to mention many of our defence systems, all rely on satellites,” said Mr Rudd. “But all that’s being put at risk by the growing possibility of collisions with satellites and space vehicles.”
The situation is made more urgent by the fact that several countries are developing weapons systems designed to destroy satellites. While there is still work to be done, the Australian government believes a code of conduct is the best approach to tackle this complex issue, and so has given the proposal in-principle support and will actively engage in negotiations to finalise a deal.
Current estimates suggest there are around 500,000 pieces of long-lived orbiting space debris large enough to seriously damage or destroy satellites or human space flights.
Canadian satellites face threats from space debris
A space operations centre in the United States alerted Canadian Space Agency about possible threat to three Canadian satellites: RADARSAT-1, RADARSAT-2 and SCISAT, from softball size space debris.
“Right now, there are approximately 20,000 objects going around the Earth at different altitudes,” Michel Doyon, manager of flight operations at the Canadian Space Agency, said. He is keeping his eyes on an area hundreds of kilometres above the Earth where Canadian satellites are in orbit.
So far, there have been 13 alerts involving close approaches to RADARSAT-1 which required two manoeuvres. RADARSAT-2 faced 14 alerts, prompting three changes in orbit to avoid being hit by space junk. And SCISAT has had three warnings. Doyon added that there was only one alert in the first 10 years after RADARSAT-1 was launched in November 1995.
Doyon blames two incidents in the past few years for increasing the number of warnings he has had to deal with. In January 2007, the Chinese tested their anti-satellite system by blowing up an old weather satellite. And in February 2009, there was an accidental collision between a US communications satellite and a Russian communications satellite.
US to endorse EU’s space code of conduct
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the US government will endorse the idea of a space conduct code, which has been proposed by the 27-nation European Union. The US will join Europe and other nations in developing an international code of conduct for space operations so long as the resulting text does not restrict “our national security-related activities in space.”
In a written statement, Clinton said, “A Code of Conduct will help maintain the long-term sustainability, safety, stability and security of space by establishing guidelines for the responsible use of space.”
Continued use of space is “at serious risk from space debris and irresponsible actors,” the statement said, without naming specific nations whose actions are viewed as irresponsible. “Unless the international community addresses these challenges, the environment around our planet will become increasingly hazardous to human spaceflight and satellite systems, which would create damaging consequences for all of us.”