India Launches Earth Monitoring Satellite

India has successfully launched its advanced earth observation satellite, HysIS, and 30 other international satellites from eight countries. The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, PSLV-C43, injected the 31 satellites into their designated orbits on November 29. The launch from the spaceport at Sriharikota, in Andhra Pradesh, marked ISRO’s third longest mission till date.

The objective of the probe is to study the Earth’s surface in visible, near infrared and shortwave infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Data from the Hyperspectral Imaging Satellite (HysIS) will help in detailed, high-definition study. HysIS is built to provide better imaging capabilities for agriculture, forestry, soil survey, assessing geological conditions in coastal zones and inland waterways, and environmental monitoring and pollution detection from industries. It will also be used by the military for surveillance purposes. The imaging tools will help the satellite monitor atmospheric activity and climate change, and also assist in studying the Earth’s magnetic field.

The other 30 small satellites onboard are a mix of satellites for imaging, communications and science experiments. Developed by ISRO, the first-ever innovative HysIS is the primary satellite of the PSLV-C43 mission. It will provide Earth observations services till 2023. Soon after the lift-off, ISRO Chairman K Sivan said, “HysIS is a very rare satellite with a super-sharp eye, and very few countries have indigenously mastered this technology.”

After the take-off, it was placed in orbit after about 17 minutes. Nearly 47 minutes later, the 30 commercial satellites—one each from Australia, Canada, Colombia, Finland, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Spain, and 23 from the USA—were placed in their respective homes. All the satellites separated nearly two hours after the launch, making the mission one of the longest for ISRO. This is the first time an Indian rocket has ferried the satellites from Australia, Colombia, Malaysia and Spain. All the 30 satellites were commercially contracted through ISRO’s commercial arm Antrix Corporation Limited.

The 380-kg satellite comes with state-of-the-art technology. The heart of the system required for the HysIS satellite is an optical imaging detector chip. The chip was indigenously designed and developed by ISRO’s Space Application Centre, and fabricated indigenously at the semiconductor lab in Chandigarh.

PSLV-C43 is a four-stage rocket, with alternating liquid and solid stages. This PSLV variant is the lightest version of the PSLV rocket, the core-alone version that only uses four core stages without six strap-on boosters. Boosters give added thrust to other two PSLV variants. Each stage is built to power the rocket through a different phase in the launch process.

HysIS is carrying two payloads–One to capture images in the visible near-infrared (VNIR) range of the light spectrum and another in the shortwave infrared (SWIR) range. This is the first time a full-fledged hyperspectral imaging satellite has been launched. A hyperspectral imaging camera in space can provide well-defined images that can help identify objects on Earth far more clearly than regular optical or remote sensing cameras. Hyperspectral or hyspex imaging combines the power of digital imaging and spectroscopy. It collects and processes information from across the electromagnetic spectrum, and enables distinct identification of objects, material or processes on the Earth by reading the spectrum for each pixel of a scene from space.

This launch was PSLV’s 45th mission overall, and 13th of the PSLV-C43 variant. In the last 25 years, ISRO has launched 52 Indian and 239 foreign satellites from 28 countries, carving a space for itself in the satellite launch market.

Earlier on November 14, India launched its latest communication satellite GSAT-29 on board GSLV MkIII-D2. India is now preparing for further launches in December. The next spectacular mission is GSAT11, which is India’s heaviest satellite. It is set to be launched from French Guiana on December 5. The long-awaited launch of GSAT-7A is also planned for December. Several other missions including Chandrayaan-II are lined up for the coming year.

Script: K V Venkatasubramanian, Senior Journalist