With the launch of the fifth payload of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is almost set to deploy a secure and nationally owned alternative to GPS, which will cover all of India and a zone about 1,500 km beyond the national borders. After two more launches, India will join the small group of nations with their own satellite navigation systems. The US GPS was the trailblazing system with a global footprint, followed by the Russian GLONASS and French DORIS. By 2020, the European Union’s Galileo and China’s BeiDou satellite arrays are expected to be globally deployed.
BeiDou is still a regional system, and the IRNSS marks India’s first, confident and very necessary step into this field. It will have two services, a public access system and an encrypted variant for the military. Indeed, while satellite navigation systems are generally celebrated for improving accuracy in conjunction with other services like GPS — DORIS can drill down to millimetric levels, which is valuable in the earth sciences — security will be the initial deliverable of the IRNSS. The need for secure communications is understood in our hacker-infested world and, by extension, so is the need to own communication satellites. However, the need to own secure positioning services should be equally obvious. A major geopolitical incident could render foreign GPS systems hard to access, or impossible to trust.
The extra accuracy which the IRNSS promises will assume significance for future developments like the Internet of Things, to revolutionise logistics and inventory management, for instance, and perhaps enhance telemetry services. The Isro is taking a significant step with the IRNSS, helping to future-proof the nation from the perspective of the security and accuracy of data. In an information-hungry world, it’s serving the national priority of generating and owning reliable data on the neighbourhood.
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