India launches 7th navigation satellite

Bystanders looking on as Indian Space Research Organisation's navigation satellite IRNSS-1G, on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C33) is launched from Sriharikota in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on April 28, 2016.
Bystanders looking on as Indian Space Research Organisation's navigation satellite IRNSS-1G, on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C33) is launched from Sriharikota in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on April 28, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

Alternative to US Global Positioning System propels New Delhi into elite group of nations

India successfully launched the last of seven navigation satellites yesterday, putting in place an indigenous alternative to the US Global Positioning System (GPS) and entering an exclusive club of countries with such capabilities.

Apart from the US, Russia has the Glonass, and the European Union has Galileo. China, which launched its 22nd navigation satellite last month, is developing its own global system called Beidou.

India currently uses the US system but its own version will give it unfettered access to real-time data that can extend 1,500km beyond its borders, and at far greater accuracy, for defence purposes like tracking missiles and navigation, said experts.

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle carrying IRNSS-1G - the seventh navigation satellite - was successfully launched from a space centre in Andhra Pradesh yesterday, in what Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a "proud moment" for India.

Mr Modi, who watched the lift-off live from his office in Delhi, said in an address to the nation that the system would be called Navigation Indian Constellation or NavIC - which in Hindi means seafarer or sailor.

Mr Modi said: "Till now, we were depending on other countries. Today, we have become self-sufficient... This is an example of 'make in India, made in India and made for Indians.'" India is expected to offer neighbouring states the use of the navigation system.

An Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) official said the seventh satellite would take some time to reach its final orbit. It would then be tested as part of the entire navigation system, and is expected to be up for use in the coming months.

India has emerged as a leader in rolling out a low-cost space programme, notching up many successes, including sending 51 satellites from 20 countries into space over the last two decades. These include Singapore's first locally built satellite in 2011. New Delhi has also said the space agency will launch 22 satellites on one rocket, possibly by next month.

Last year, the Indian space agency successfully launched a space telescope called Astrosat, India's version of the Hubble telescope, and, in 2013, successfully sent an unmanned mission to Mars.

Experts said the home-grown navigation system would give the South Asian country a strategic advantage as it would be completely under its control.

Professor Ajey Lele, from the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses in Delhi, said: "It is significant and of strategic importance for India. This has been a requirement for quite some time, with India being a user of state-of-the-art weapons platforms, be it in the sea or on land. Till now, India was depending on an outside system, and there was a need for a more accurate system."

Unconfirmed reports in India have alleged that the US denied India the use of GPS facilities during the Kargil War that India fought with Pakistan in 1999 over Kashmir. Still, India started planning its own system only in 2010.

The first navigation satellite was launched in 2013, with each satellite having a 12-year life. The entire system is reported to have cost the space agency more than 14.2 billion rupees (S$288 million).

Former Isro chairman K. Kasturirangan said the constellation of seven satellites would help provide the base for India to build a more "sophisticated navigation system in the future".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'India launches 7th navigation satellite'. Print Edition | Subscribe