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How ISRO's new satellite will change India's Internet

By Pallava Bagla
June 05, 2017 18:03 IST
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A truly 'made in India' satellite that will empower a digital India.
Pallava Bagla reports.

When ISRO made history, launching 104 satellites in one go, February 15, 2017. Photograph: PTI

The Indian Space Research Organisation's upcoming endeavours -- the GSAT-19 and the GSAT-11 satellites -- are potential game changers and can revolutionise communications by empowering a digital India and providing Internet services and streaming like never before.

ISRO is undertaking a mega experiment at India's rocket port at Sriharikota: A spanking new monster rocket is all set to launch an altogether new class of communications satellite.

Tapan Misra, director of the Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, where the GSAT-19 satellite has been designed, calls it "a game changer communications satellite for India".

If it succeeds, the single GSAT-19 satellite will be equivalent to having a constellation of 6 to 7 of the older variety of communication satellites in space.

Today out of a constellation of 41 in-orbit Indian satellites, 13 are communication satellites.

"A truly 'made in India' satellite that will empower a digital India that is in the making," says Misra of GSAT-19.

India's heaviest rocket till date, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mk-III) that weighs the equivalent to the weight of five fully loaded Boeing 747s or as much as 200 fully grown elephants is attracting all the attention!

This is India's rocket of the future as it will undoubtedly be human rated to carry Indian astronauts likely to be named 'gaganauts or vyomanauts'.

Former ISRO chairman K Kasturirangan, the man who conceived the GSLV Mk-III, confirms it will be India's vehicle to ferry Indians into space.

On this maiden mission, the GSAT-19 satellite this monster rocket will ferry is in a technological class that has no parallels in the country.

The satellite weighing 3,136 kg is equal to the weight of a single elephant being lofted into space, but this novel satellite promises not to be a 'white elephant in space'.

As space experts say rockets are like taxis, it is the passenger who is more important and hence in this launch even though all eyes are on the GSLV Mk-III, the real focus should be on the unique passenger which is as Misra emphasises "the country's first satellite capable of providing Internet services using a space based platform".

Internet services may not be unleashed immediately, but what the country is putting together is a capability in place which is very important especially to connect places that are literally off the fibre optic Internet backbone.

At over 3 tons, the GSAT-19 satellite will be the heaviest satellite made and to be launched from India and is a voluminous animal.

Misra says "by volume it is the most enormous satellite made by India."

The satellite is indeed a test bed for many new technologies.

GSAT-19 is going to be powered for the first time with indigenously-made Lithium-ion batteries.

These batteries have been made so that India's self-reliance quotient can increase.

In addition, similar batteries can then be used to power electric vehicles like cars and buses.

According to ISRO, the GSAT-19 'carries a Geostationary Radiation Spectrometer (GRASP) payload to monitor and study the nature of charged particles and the influence of space radiation on satellites and their electronic components.'

An important experiment to understand how to make space- based components more radiation resistant.

ISRO says GSAT-19 also features certain advanced spacecraft technologies including "miniaturised heat pipe, fibre optic gyro, Micro Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) accelerometer."

These are all important developments being tested so that they become mainstay systems on future missions.

The most innovative development on GSAT-19 is that for the first time there will be no transponders on the satellite.

In fact, the word 'transponder' will not be associated with this new bird in the sky, says Misra.

Instead for the first time, ISRO is using a whole new way beaming data down using multiple frequency beams and hence it is dubbed "a high through put satellite".

Misra explains that earlier the entire country was lighted with a single beam that meant all users had to share the same band width, with the new suite of technologies on- board GSAT-19 it has 8 beams so that data can be pumped down in much higher capacities.

Almost 6 to 7 times more data can be beamed down. GSAT-19 is a fore-runner for the technologies that ISRO seeks to unleash on the country.

In fact scientists at ISRO suggest that GSAT-19 is just a trailer, the real movie which is the GSAT-11 satellite will go up in a few months and that is a mighty communications platform.

The GSAT-11 weighs a whopping 5.8 tons and since India still does not possess a space truck big enough to send it in orbit, hence it will be launched using the Ariane-5 rocket from Kourou in South America.

Don't get confused by the numbering, in ISRO's space-time warp sometimes the younger brother can get married before the older brother, hence GSAT-19 is lifting off before GSAT-11.

The GSAT-11 is a mega satellite whose panels are the biggest India has ever made at over 4 metre in height. In addition, this giant bird will have effectively 32 beams streaming data like never before.

"It is not a single satellite, but like a constellation of many satellites all working from a single platform and in unison from the sky," Misra says.

Once this satellite hits the orbit satellite-based Internet streaming will become a total reality for India, he says.

In the ever-changing cyber security environment, India urgently needs an all new Internet backbone since New Delhi just can't rely on optical fibres, copper based telephony and mobile cellular services as an alternative.

Today satellite-based Internet services are a robust and secure form of communication.

"For a vast country like India, satellite-based communication where voice, data and streaming video all combine on a single platform holds immense potential," Misra says.

India is today muscling its way into the big boys club of space faring.

ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar says it is a huge experiment with an all new vehicle and an all new satellite.

IMAGE: When ISRO made history, launching 104 satellites in one go, February 15, 2017. Photograph: PTI

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Pallava Bagla
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