Friday, September 28, 2007

Indian Space Programme

Business India, April 21- May 4, 1997

Driven by the telecom, TV and Internet revolutions, the global space market for satellites, launch vehicles and other hardware is expected to rocket to nearly $60 billion in the next three years. The software for, and services coming out of, this growing space infrastructure will involve even larger sums. With the Indian Space Research Organisation's technology and Indian entrepreneurship, the country is well placed to grab a significant share of this emerging business. But will the government amend its currently stifling policies to let this happen?

Shivanand Kanavi

Anand Krishna is a real estate devel­oper who is making his fame and fortune not on land anymore but actually beyond the skies. A Malaysian of Indian origin, Krishna owns Measat, a satellite company with four satel­lites in orbit. Shinawatra, a former general in the Thai army, is another to reach for the stars with company Thaicomm. They are part of an increas­ing number of Asian entrepreneurs who are getting into the hottest business of this, and probably the next, century - satellite services.

The business is rocketing in front of our very eyes and we seem to be missing it. Over the next 10 years a galaxy of satellites will cover our planet's skies. There are all together 150 satellites in orbit today running telecommunications, remote sens­ing, TV, scientific experiments and military appli­cations. In the next three years alone 500 satellites, called 'birds' in industry parlance, are expected to be launched.

The hardware alone spells $30 billion worth of business for builders. If the plan of the Bill Gates-­Craig McCaw company Teledesic to put up 840 satellites to provide multimedia services and global mobile connectivity to the Internet comes through, then the value of business will truly be astronomical.

Four major factors have fuelled an unprece­dented demand for satellites: the growth of the Internet, corporate business communication, value-added services and electronic commerce globally, but especially in the US; the mushroom­ing of satellite TV channels in almost all countries and their further development to digital Direct- To ­Home (DTH) service with high-definition picture and CD-quality sound; the development of commercial remote-sensing applications; and the urgent need to set up basic telephony in developing countries.

Global mobile communications drives the mar­ket. In the next three years over 300 satel­lites are expected to be launched in the low-earth (600-1,000 km) and medium­earth orbits (10,000 km). These are parts of constellations of satellites meant for global cellular com­munication such as Iridium of Motorola, Globalstar, Odyssey of TRW, Orbcomm of Orbital Sciences, Starsys of GE Ameri­corn, ICO Global, etc. There are a few more schemes involving 100-200 small satel­lites awaiting global regulatory processes.

With commercial remote sensing open­ing up, 100 remote sensing satellites are planned to be launched as well. Additionally 150 tra­ditional large satel­lites will be launched in geostationary.orbits. More than a hundred of them will be com­mercial communication satellites. Over 50 of these are high.- powered satellites meant for DTH TV broadcasts. About 30 satcoms (communications satellites) will be for standard telecommunications and others will be for assorted use, including multimedia services and the Internet.

Such an unprecedented boom will mean another $30 billion for launch providers. Besides the gov­ernment-funded space programmes, a large num­ber of private companies are developing rockets for these launches. Some companies like Loral (Ford Aerospace) have shed their defence business in favour of the more lucrative space market. The merger of corporate giants such as Lockheed-Mar­tin Marietta (GE satellites with General Dynamics rockets) and Boeing-McDonnell Douglas have also meant an intensified focus on their space businesses.

Unlike in the past, the major new players are not governmental or inter-governmental programmes such as NASA, Intelsat, Inmarsat or Arianespace, much less the cash-starved Russian and Ukrainian agencies. The new players are not manufacturers of satellites and rockets at all- rather, they are oper­ators, marketers and service providers. They rely on other firms to build the hardware and launch it, while they focus on selling and finding innovative applications for their services.

Where does India fit in this scenario?

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has today completed developmental flights of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which can put a one-tonne satellite in a 1,000 km orbit. Work is in progress to stretch the existing launch vehicle by increasing the amount of propellants in the first stage solid-fuel booster and the second stage liquid-fuel engine, so that a 1200 kg satellite can be placed in a low earth orbit. The PSLV in its developmental phase cost an incredibly low $15 million. The entire programme was budgeted at about $100 million. Even if com­mercial launches of PSLV are marketed at $25-30 million, it will be the most attractive launcher for low earth orbit satellites, which could be for remote sensing, scientific experiments or ­the market driver - mobile communications, such as Motorola's Iridium (66 satellites) amongst others.

ISRO lost an opportunity to be part of the first round of Iridium contracts. Motorola had to finalise its financial closure and, due to the failure of the first developmental flight of PSLV in 1993 on account of a software error, dropped PSLV for consideration as one of the primary launchers. However, the later suc­cess of two flights in 1994 and 1996 means that Motorola will con­sider it as a potential vehicle for replenishing the constellation starting in 2002. Recently there have been a series of launch failures by sev­eral launch providers, and it might well become a seller's market for those who have suc­cessful launch records, so the window is still open for ISRO.

How does ISRO suc­ceed with a 'shoe-string budget' (as the well­known US aerospace magazine Aviation Week & Space Techno­logy said in a recent cover, story)? Space technology needs high­quality industrial and other infrastructure. For example, running the deep space simulation chamber for testing a satel­lite soaks up large amounts of power and about 2 million litres of liquid nitrogen, both of which are expensive in India.

First sounding rocket launched from TERLS

Indian Space Research. Organisation (ISRO) formed under Department of Atomic Energy

Aryabhatta launched

Bhaskara-1 launched

SLV-3, Rohini satellite launched

SLV-3, RS-D1 launched. APPLE launched. Bhaskara-2 launched

INSAT-1A launched

SLV-3, RS-D2 Iaunched.INSAT-1B launched

Launch of ASLV. SROSS satellite could not be placed in orbit

IRS - 1 A launched
INSAT- 1 C launched
ASLV launched. Unsuccessful in placing SROSS satellite in orbit

1990 INSAT-ID launched

1991 IRS-1B launched

1992 ASLV launchedSROSS-C placed successfullyINSAT-2A launched

1993 INSAT - 2B launched PSLV-D1placing IRS-IE unsuccessfully

1994 ASLV launchedSROSS-C2 placed successfully PSLV-D2 launchedIRS-P2 placed successfully

1995 INSAT-2C launched IRS -1C launched

1996 PSLV-D3 launched
IRS-P3 placed successfully

1997 INSAT-2D sent to French Guyana on 8th April for launch

Space jargon
Geostationary orbit
Any object placed into orbit at 36,000 km above the equator will take the same amount of time as Earth to complete one revolution. Thus from Earth it appears to be stationary. Hence an antenna dish receiving signals from the satellite does not need to move to continuously track it, saving consider­able expense and complexity.
A communication satellite used for telecom or TV receives the electromagnetic signal from the ground transmitter. It then retransmits it at a dif­ferent frequency towards Earth. The communica­tion equipment on board a satellite that does both is called a transponder.
Why multi-stage rockets?
The more weight that is carried into space, the larger the size of the rocket that is required for more fuel and power. It costs approximately $30,000 (roughly Rs. 10 lakh) to put one kilogram into geostationary orbit. In a multi-stage rocket the burnt out stages are detached one by one so that less and less weight is actually carried up.
Remote sensing
Observing Earth from a distance and getting infor­mation based on the reflecting properties of differ­ent objects is known as remote sensing. Remote sensing can also be done using aircraft but satellite remote sensing is far cheaper and more compre­hensive.
What is digital Direct- To- Home broadcasting?
In DTH, the signal frequency allows the broadcast to be received by a small dish antenna about a foot in diameter. Using digital technology the signals are compressed so that many channels can be broadcast from a single transponder. It enables the broadcaster to monitor and control usage, because the signal can be keyed to individual users, who can then be charged subscriptions. Since it uses digital technology, DTH provides extremely high­ quality picture and sound, as on a laser disc or CD.
Why should we use liquid-fuelled rockets when solid-fuelled rockets are much simpler to make?
Solid-fuelled rockets cannot be turned on or· off at will. Once lit they bum till the propellant. is exhausted. A liquid-fuelled rocket, on the other hand, can be easily controlled with a fuel valve, just like the accelerator of a car.

But ISRO has a major cost advantage because so much of space technology development is highly labour-intensive. This kind of work requires the highly skilled labour of scientists and engineers. ISRO has MScs, MTechs and PhDs assembling and testing critical subsystems of its satellites and rockets for a fraction of the costs of its foreign competitors. Just like the Indian advantage in developing computer software, low-cost intellec­tual labour gives ISRO a marked competitive advantage.

For example, the money invested in the entire Indian space programme over the last 35 years is half of what Japan invested in developing their own H-2 rocket over the last 10 years ($2.4 bil­lion). Yet it found that H-2, with a price tag of $150-180 million per launch, is priced out of the market. Now Japan is investing another $900 mil­lion to modify it into H-2A and using all the manu­facturing infrastructure of heavy weights like Mitsubishi, Kawasaki, Nissan and NEC to bring the launch estimate to about $80 million. H-2A has the same payload capacity as ISRO'S Geostation­ary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) now under development at an additional cost of only $100 million. ISRO can profitably price it at $70-80 million when it flies early in the next decade.

Launch failures are a common occurrence in the developmental phase. But serious problems arise when an operational vehicle fails, because this shoots up the already high satellite insurance costs and damages the launcher's credibility in the market. Thus far, all of the operational satellites built by ISRO, be they remote-sensing satellites or communication satellites, have done well, with some performing beyond their designed lifespan.
PSLV also acts as a major step in achieving the capability to launch 2,000-2,500 kg communica­tion satellites in the 36,000 km high geostationary orbit. Slightly modified first and second stages which have already been ground tested are used in configuring GSLV to launch India's Insat series. After developing GSLV and putting it into opera­tion, it will be stretched to carry the heavier 3,500 kg class satellites.

Under the leadership of U.R. Rao, ISRO under­took a vigorous programme to develop a space industry in India by transferring their technology to build various subsystems for liquid- and solid­fuelled rockets to private and public sector units. Antrix Corporation, which was set up by ISRO to market the government organisation's products internationally, has already taken initial steps to involve the private sector, and it even has Ratan Tata, Jamshyd Godrej and Ravindra Reddy on its board. L&T, Godrej, MTAR, Walchandnagar Indus­tries and others, who are involved in manufactur­ing subsystems for ISRO, could follow the worldwide trend and form consortia to build launch vehicles and market launch services.

Global marketing requires investments, mar­ket savvy, and aggressive strategies, which pri­vate entrepreneurs can provide. In fact, Rao recalls how India's first experimental communi­cation satellite, Apple, was not only offered a free ride into space by Arianespace (a European launch conglomerate) but, throughout the devel­opmental stage of Ariane, its director-general would personally visit ISRO every three months to brief them on the latest progress in the project. Ariane used to fly prospective customers from all over the world to French Guyana for Ariane launches. No wonder then that when NASA stopped carrying commercial satellites following the Challenger disaster, Ariane moved in. Today it has 60 per cent of the commercial launch market with its Ariane-4 rocket.

To launch so many satellites one needs suitable space ports. More than 10 new launch facilities are being planned by the private sector worldwide in the US, Canada, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, Kenya and Australia. And India's Sriharikota Range (SHAR), covering some 170 sq km north of Chen­nai, if marketed properly, could be a money-spinner. The location utilizes Earth's eastward rotation to launch a geostationary satellite in the equatorial plane. Its location close to the equator is one of its main advantages (as geo­stationary satellites must be launched near the Earth's equator), besides the fact that the Bay of Bengal provides a safe, unpopulated environment. Along with the Ariane­space port at Kouru in French Guyana in South America, SHAR currently provides the best location for equatorial launches.

SHAR also boasts a state-of-the-art, 20-storey, 300-tonne mobile ser­vice tower. This is a mechanical engineering mar­vel built by Triveni Structurals to ISRO designs and specifications. The mobile service tower pro­vides facilities for launching PSLVs and is cur­rently being augmented with cryogenic equipment for launching GSLVs as well. To increase the fre­quency of launches to serve the global market an additional launch tower is being planned by ISRO and is awaiting government funding. The range also offers solid propellant production and casting facilities along with ground testing facilities for solid-fuelled rockets.

The star of the space programme is of course ISRO'S satellite design and fabrication capability. Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) today are among the finest in the world and at the same time inexpensive. ISRO currently has four of these in polar orbits and will launch four more by 2000. ISRO is thus placed to be the best provider of remote-sensing data globally, a market dominated earlier by Landsat (US) and Spot (France). It was also a bit of luck that Landsat-5 went out of action and Landsat-6 was lost in space by the Chinese Long March rocket.

ISRO moved into the vacuum with its high-class IRS 1-C. Seizing the opportunity, the US com­pany Eosat, which is marketing Landsat's remote-sensing data, made a strategic alliance with ISRO'S global marketing arm, Antrix. ''The alliance is win-win," N. Sampath, executive direc­tor of Antrix, exults. Recently Eosat's director of applications and training, Tina Cary, echoed simi­lar sentiments, saying, "the IRS series is a jewel in the crown of Eosat." A new partner to this alliance will be Space Imaging (US), which is soon putting up a high-resolution satellite of its own. The threesome, with its combined array of data products, hopes to capture a significant portion of the $250-million market for data over the next three to five years.

In an exclusive interview with Business India, K. Kasturirangan, chairman of ISRO, spelt out the organisation's marketing strategy. "Data sales in the form of computer-com­patible tapes and hard copies will yield us money, but the real money is in value-added services. Value-added services in remote sensing could soon have a market of $2-3 billion. The important thing is that in India we have a lot of experience in generating value-added products for specific queries, laying a pipeline for urban development or ground water studies or other studies in rural development, crop estimates, aquaculture, etc, which we did for our own developmental needs. Thereby we have built up the service infrastructure for the global market as well.

"We are encouraging more and more entrepre­neurs into remote-sensing, value-added services. When many of the foreign space agencies come to us today for signing co-operative agreements in remote sensing, they also come as representatives of industry in their country. We also have been including industrial representatives and put entre­preneurs together. We have identified about 50 entrepreneurs and 12-13 have become very active.

Profits from a distance
Remote sensing is a technology by which a satellite acts as our eye in the sky through which we get important information about our own planet. Everything reflects energy in a different way. The reflective and emissive properties of various surfaces, which are detectable by satel­lite, are called their 'spectral signatures'.

Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites are equipped with special cameras which scan a Part of Earth's surface for radiation. The data is digitised and sent to a ground station for analysis. This data can yield commercially valuable information. For example, in the case of ground water, the conventional method of prospecting yields a success rate of about 45-­50 per cent, but remote-sensing data used in conjunction with the conventional method yields a success rate of almost 95 per cent.

In the same way, remote sensing has great cash-saving applications in urban development, aquaculture, deep water fish­ing, cartography, siting industrial complexes, environmental impact assessment, pipeline laying, etc.

ISRO, in addition to having developed extensive in-house remote-sensing expertise, is working at building up a service infrastruc­ture and likewise encouraging many entrepre­neurs to service the market. The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), National Natural Resources Management System and Regional Remote Sensing Service Centers are continuously making efforts to popularize the technology. They provide satellite data in various forms at throw­away prices to Indian users as compared to the expensive French SPOT satellite data. They also help in interpreting it for specific applications. NRSA, together with the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing at Dehradun, is training a large number of people from the government and the private sector in data analysis and value-added services.

Recognizing India's strengths in remote sens­ing, the UN has established an advanced centre for training in remote sensing for the Asia Pacific region at Dehradun. Given its state-of-the-art remote-sensing satellites and software abilities, India is considered to be one of the global leaders in the field.

Some are ex-ISRO people. Some have been trained by us at our Indian Institute of Remote Sensing at Dehradun and at the National Remote Sensing Agency at Hyderabad.
"Our French competitor SPOT is talking about a new satellite – SPOT-5 - with improved resolu­tion. They have their own established market. But I am sure that we will have our own niche in the mar­ket as well. We have to always maintain leadership technologically. Instead of trying to enter as the third force in this emerging market, we are having a strategic alliance with Eosat and Space Imaging," elaborates Kasturirangan.

Today India is one of the global leaders in all aspects of remote sensing. "In fact, a very large number of papers in any international conference on applications of remote sensing is from India," says former chairman Rao proudly. He was also the architect of Antrix Corp and its alliance with Eosat.

ISRO has not found space hardware marketing as easy, when giants like Hughes control 60 per cent of the global satellite market. SO ISRO has gone in for subsystem supply as a market entry route. It has a contract for about $2 million dollars from Hughes and a further half million from Matra Marconi. But this is not easy either. Each designer has his own specifications for subsystems, unless the system is co-designed with the supplier. "The money is peanuts and hassles are many, margins are non-existent, but the interaction is helping us in many ways. Though they are tough to satisfy, once Hughes or Matra realizes your value as a· reli­able supplier, they inevitably give a steady stream of orders which we can pass on to the industry while we become the testing, qualifying node," says Sampath.

Kasturirangan feels that 10 transponders to be leased out to Intelsat in 1998 from Insat-2E will not only bring in $100 million over the next 10 years but also give India visibility in the interna­tional communication satellite market.

"Our global thrust is remote sensing"
K. Kasturirangan, chairman of ISRO, spoke to Business India about ISRO'S marketing strategies and the challenges that lie ahead in the highly competitive global market

Are you looking at the global market for space hardware and software as a thrust area, or do you just have some surplus capacity to sell?

In the case of value-added services in remote sensing we feel we have some strength and we are giving it a global thrust. In communications we have leased 10 transponders to Intelsat in Insat 2­E for $100 million over the next 10 years. We also provide satellite operation-related services like track­ing and telemetry on orbit tests to other satellite companies.

When it comes to satellite hard­ware, we do have some problems. We can supply ele­ments which have been standardised like communica­tion elements, pre­cision mechanical elements, control system elements, electro-optical and infra-red sensors and propulsion elements, among others. We have a contract with Hughes worth over a million dollars. We are supplying some sub-systems to Matra-Marconi in Europe, and we are also holding discussions with Loral Aerospace of the US. But manufacturing is not ISRO'S activ­ity and we are transferring many of these things to industry.

In the launch-vehicle programme there is lim­ited capacity available for a single shot or replen­ishment of satellites in low earth orbiting constellations for mobile communication. There are a number of agencies in the world which are looking for that kind of support as well. But we are not planning a major thrust in the launch­ vehicle market.

Here again we want the industry to play a more important role. They should not be just making subsystems for us. They should get into assembly and the vehicle itself like Lockheed, McDonnell ­Douglas, Orbital Sciences, etc, in the US, so that ultimately we can have a space industry coming out of this.

Suppose tomorrow the government allows uplinking for private channels. How long will it take ISRO to put a satellite in orbit?

The DoT and the ministry for information and broadcasting use about 70 transponders. With Insat 2-D, which we sent to French Guyana for launch this month, we will have 93. As we place one Insat every year, we will have 130 transpon­ders by 2002. We can build up capacity for private users and adjustments could be done. You can't suddenly ask for 25 transponders – nowhere in the world can you do that. Other than that we can take care of private demand.

Do you see any widening of the Insat coordina­tion committee to include private users?

I will not right now rule out that possibility. How Insat will evolve in the future is certainly receiv­ing ISRO' S attention. It will depend on the telecom policy and broadcasting policy which are being discussed in the government.

The draft broadcast policy says channel opera­tors should use Indian satellites. If ISRO transponders are going to be priced competi­tively anyway, why should you insert that clause?

Every country, when it reaches capability like ours, develops a national satellite policy. When you talk about an Indian registered satellite, it is not necessary that it should be built by ISRO. It can be built anywhere. Registration essentially provides control of the satellite. Government also takes certain protective measures which are part of UN conventions and treaties as well as ITU (International Telecommunication Union) regulations

Have any Indian operators of satellite channels approached ISRO for transponders?

There have been in the past a number of enquiries.

So ISRO has lost that business?

Yes. If transponders were available they would have come to us.

There has been talk of an 'exodus' from ISRO. Is there any possibility of salary and perk structures being changed to offer more attractive packages?

The Fifth Pay Commission has come out with recommendations. They will be reasonably good. There is also an effort to bridge the gap with the private sector by offering housing and other perks.

Does the government recognize that high technology areas have to be treated differently; otherwise we will keep loosing talent?

Yes. The flexibility we have is quite notable. We can hire people at middle and senior levels directly if we need to. Our crop of new recruits is reason­ably good; they are not all from IITS or IIMS as they used to be, but from regional engineering colleges and good private engineering colleges. The slight difference in background they might have with IITS is easily made up for with in-house training. People with enough drive and motivation are given responsibilities in wider fields. We are not unduly worried of some people leaving. It happens in all organizations, government or private.

What are the technology challenges for new comers at ISRO, or is it getting routine?

A new generation of satellites, the reduction of weights of space components, increasing power, developing new, stronger and lighter materials, new high-resolution cameras, new digital circuits and electro-optical elements, etc. To bring down the weight of say a filter from 200 to 100 gm is a tremendous thing, but if that is the new interna­tional benchmark then we have to do it. It is not easy. We may go for a newer band, the Ka band, which is used for multimedia services. It is being planned for GSAT·3. We have to develop ion propulsion systems rather than gas-based ones. They will increase the life of a satellite. I don't see any problem of technology challenges for the next 10 years at least.

Meanwhile, ISRO is coming out with increas­ingly sophisticated communication satellites with Ku band transponders for smaller VSATs and mobile communications, global positioning sys­tems and Ka band for multimedia services. It will also produce a DTH satellite in 1998-99 as well as high-power S band transponders for digi­tal-audio communication, which could have possi­ble applications for a countrywide mobile communication system.

But these potentialities will not be realized until the government liberalizes telecommunications and broadcasting policies. To date the government refuses to release its stranglehold on communica­tions and broadcasting, which remain amongst the most rigidly controlled activities under the Indian Telegraph Act. Despite many modifications to the legislation since its enactment in the 19th century, the commercial opportunities offered by space technology (and even India's own satellites!) cannot be used to commercial advantage.

Despite the major advances made by the Indian space programme and its enormous potential for providers of satellite-based services such as tele­com and TV, government policy prohibits private satellite service providers from using ISRO's satel­lites. Starry-eyed entrepreneurs are not permitted either to set up satellite services or buy or lease satellites from ISRO.

What's more, uplinking from India between private sector satellite service providers and any satellites whatsoever is not permitted. This means that Indian service providers must not only lease transponders on foreign satellites, but must also send their programmes abroad for uplinking. This not only adds great expense to the service, but also means the loss of revenue that would otherwise go to ISRO and VSNL. The situation could get even more piquant if the government does not get its act together, because one might see ISRO'S transpon­ders leased to Intelsat, which in turn could sublease them back to Indian and other Asian operators, leaving ISRO out in the cold.

Nothing seems to highlight the wasted poten­tial of the Indian space programme due to current government policy more than the fact that while Indian experts train satellite technologists from Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, China, the Philippines and other countries at the foothills of the Himalayas at Dehradun, businessmen from these very same countries make a beeline to India to sell satellite services.

The countdown for capturing the opportunities of the space market has begun. Since it is still a nascent business with enormous growth potential and India has developed the necessary technologi­cal and managerial skills, the country is in a posi­tion to make a significant impact on the new business and reap a great deal of the rewards. But ISRO'S hands can only be unshackled through the creation and implementation of forward-Iooking, business-oriented policies. ISRO should be allowed to network with private enterprise to mar­ket its scientific and engineering expertise and products.

India and its entrepreneurs can rocket into the next millennium on the new business of satellite services, but only if the government lets them.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fuzzy Logic

Business India, November 30-December 13, 1998

Closer to real life

Fuzzy-logic-based consumer goods may not be worth their premium prices, but in complex systems, and where safety is involved, fuzzy logic scores high.

Shivanand Kanavi

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a machine? That it is mechanical. Which means that it does exactly what it is instructed to do at the press of a button or turn of a knob. The machine sees everything in terms of discrete numbers with no choices in between. That means that you, the user, have a limited choice - you cannot get the benefit of the in-between values, be they temperature for an air-conditioner or intermedi­ate distances for an auto focus camera.

That is changing, thanks to what is called fuzzy logic. This logic, used to programme newer, more sophisti­cated machines, works differently. Unlike conventional machines, which act on simple yes-no instruc­tions, fuzzy logic machines can oper­ate in more complex conditions. In that sense they behave more like humans, whose thought processes are complex.

Let us take the example of a family deciding to shift house. Many consid­erations are weighed before a deci­sion is taken. For example, the new house is bigger, but is further from the husband's office, though it is closer to the wife's dispensary and daughter's school. The cost per square foot of the built-up area is higher, but the location is cleaner and quieter. And so on.

In short, the new house has a number of pluses and minuses. The family's decision will ultimately be either yes or no, but it will have been arrived at as a result of a complex process in which the factors involved are given varying degrees of impor­tance or weights. That is what statis­ticians would call a weighted average. To put it simply, that is how fuzzy­ logic-based machines work.

Fuzzy logic has found numerous applications in the control systems of complex machinery. In the 1990s Japanese and Korean companies have launched a large number of consumer goods with fuzzy controls. For exam­ple, a fuzzy-logic washing machine uses sensors to measure the size of the wash load and the turbidity in the wash water (which will indicate the amount of dirt in the wash). A few fuzzy rules then turn these signals into patterns of water agitation for different lengths of time and different amounts of detergent to be released by the dispenser. Accurate and inexpensive sensors became widely available in the late 1980s, as did fuzzy chips, and thus consumer goods with fuzzy controls became a reality (see table).

The shopper's guide to fuzzy logic
Product Manufacturers The fuzzy advantage
Air-conditioner Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Sharp, Matsushita (Videocon) Consumes less power
Auto engine Nissan/NOK Controls fuel injection
Camcorder Matsushita Cancels hand-held Jitter and adjusts auto focus
Photocopier Canon Adjusts drum voltage based on picture density, temperature, and humidity
Dishwasher Matsushita
Adjusts cleaning cycle and rinse and wash Strategies
Refrigerator Sharp, Daewoo(India) Sets defrosting and cooling times based on
Rice cooker Matsushita, Sanyo Sets cooking time according to amounts of rice and water
Television Sanyo(BPL), LG, Samsung, Sony Adjusts screen and texture for each frame
Video Camera Canon, Sanyo Adjusts auto-focus and lighting
Washing machine Daewoo(India), Matsushita(Videocon), Sanyo(BPL), LG, Hitachi, Samsung
Adjusts washing according to dirt level, fabric type, load, and water level.

Some of these products have reached the Indian market recently. For example, Videocon and BPL have introduced fuzzy-logic washing machines based on Matsushita and Sanyo technology. Daewoo has intro­duced its own fuzzy washing machines and refrigerators. Videocon has a fuzzy air-conditioner, BPL a colour TV, and so on. All these machines are priced 10-20 percent higher than the non-fuzzy models. The companies claim that the payoff is in ease of use and better perfor­mance. But will a fuzzy washing machine save Rs.3,000 worth of power and detergent in its design life of, say, 5-7 years? Not very likely. Besides, if something happens to the fuzzy circuitry, the repair charges are steep as the companies keep the design proprietary.

Doubtful value for money
Today fuzzy control systems have further evolved into even more advanced adaptive fuzzy. These systems change their fuzzy rules as the environment changes or as the machine undergoes wear and tear. Now we have refrigerators with adap­tive fuzzy logic which change their compressor cycles on the basis of how the consumer uses the fridge. Is the door opened very often in the morn­ing and evening and not during the rest of the day and most of the night (as a working couple with no children might do)? In a house with many children, the door might be opened often, except when they are in school or sleeping. The pattern might change again during the summer and winter vacations, and so on. The adaptive fuzzy chip learns the pattern of usage, records it in an internal clock, and triggers off the compressor accordingly. Consumer goods with adaptive fuzzy logic control are even more expensive and doubtful value for money.

“Fuzzy is wrong, wrong, and pernicious"

“So for as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.
– Albert Einstein (Geometrie und Erfahrung)

Fuzzy logic and its application suffered from official neglect and even ridicule in the US. A distinguished electrical engi­neer once said, Fuzzy theory is wrong, wrong, and pernicious. Fuzzy logic is the cocaine of science.”

Another traditionalist added: "Fuzzification is a kind of scientific permissiveness. It tends to result in socially appealing slogans unaccompanied by hard scientific work." Such strong opin­ions were a product of intolerance and fundamentalism that no doubt exist in many influential members of the scientific establishment. It was also provoked by the fact that initial advocates of fuzzy thinking gave only "hand-waving arguments" and no "hard science". Today the conserva­tives have had to eat crow. IEEE, the most prestigious body of electrical engineers worldwide, has a separate journal for research in fuzzy logic. Many Japanese and Korean companies have also turned these ideas into commercial success.

Lotfi Zadeh, an Iranian born in Azerbai­jan, developed fuzzy logic while teaching electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, in the mid- 1960s. He used his prestige as a brilliant systems engineer to encourage people to work in fuzzy logic, but he faced constant ridicule. Today, he has been vindicated after a hard struggle. However hard nuts among the traditionalists have tried rationalise the fuzzy logic phenomenon by calling it some sort of Oriental mysticism (and hence Asian companies were the pioneers). However, today fuzzy is part of the arsenal of any expert in artificial intelligence.

Interestingly there was a school of Jain logicians in ancient India who had devel­oped a six-valued logic called shyadvad, instead of the Aris­totelian yes-no type of binary logic.

However, adaptive fuzzy logic is a must in more complex systems like a steel rolling mill, an aircraft, or a high-speed train. For example, if the control system of a helicopter can adjust itself to wear and tear, and changes in the outside temperature and dusty conditions, it can fly safely even in severe conditions. The absence of such adaptive controls led to failure of the commando operation launched by Jimmy Carter during the hostage crisis in Iran. Many of the US choppers crashed in the hot and dusty deserts of Iran before they could get anywhere near the hostages!

Today, adaptive fuzzy logic is being used in a large number of non-mechanical applications as well, such as evaluating takeover targets, modelling econometric changes, simulating test marketing, project management, and so on.

Fuzzy logic tries to accommodate the greyness of life as against the black and white of Aristotelian logic and is thus an advance of theory. Control systems or simulation programmes based on it are a step closer to the complexities of real life and play an important role where the cost of a mistake can be frightful. However, applications where the controls are not critical, as in a wash­ing machine or air-conditioner or fridge, are of doubtful value to the consumer.

Himalayan Bio-resources

Business India, June 12-25, 2000
Bouquet of technology blossoms

Can plant biotechnology yield better tea, high value flowers, aromatic plants rich in essential oils and new drug molecules from rare Himalayan plants? Yes, proves the Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology (IHGT) at Palampur

Shivanand Kanavi

Englishmen who fancied the hills of Himachal, which reminded them of Scotland, found refuge from the hot Indo-Gangetic plains in cooler climes of Shimla, Dalhousie, Mcleodgunj, Forsythgunj, Barot, and other places. They also brought in tea cultivation to the region. Tea from Kangra Valley was at one time bought at a premium. However, the neglect of the tea gardens by local owners after Independence led to the fall of Kangra tea. Most tea gardens became weed gardens and production touched the nadir of less than 6 lakh kg a year. Today Kangra tea has bounced back the production has gone up in less than 10 years to 1.6 million kg, with the same acreage under cultivation.

The credit goes to a band of scientists at the youngest and one of the smallest CSIR laboratories – IHBT Palampur. They painstakingly educated the growers in the area and introduced proper practices in weeding, pruning, and plucking, and the correct use of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilisers. On the other hand, as concern has grown in export markets about pesticide residues in tea, IHBT has set up an advanced analytical lab for the same.

As growers face labour shortage during several months of the busy plucking season of March-October, the institute has also developed machines, in collaboration with Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute, Durgapur, for mechanised tea plucking thereby improving productivity 10-20 times. “The machines have found favour with several planters and some companies have bought the design from CSIR and manufacture the same,” says S.D. Ravindranath, head of the tea division at IHBT.

It may not sound very hi-tech, but nevertheless it boosts the local economy. Meanwhile plant biotechnologists at Palampur are also doing cutting-edge work in tea, to genetically alter it. Their aim is to produce a variety, which will sprout in cold climates as well. Since tea goes “dormant” in this region for almost five months a year, additional sprouting for even a month or two more, would be a major boon for the industry.

Himachal provides the ideal agroclimatic conditions for floriculture. “What we did when we took up floriculture as a major thrust area, was to first study the market, to see which
Variety of flowers fetch the maximum value in Delhi market and in which season,” says D. Mukherjee, who heads the floriculture division. As a result, IHBT developed several new varieties of flowers which are commercially attractive to growers. They are also working on producing tulips, gladioli, bird of paradise, lilliums, and others, which will flower off-season, or on a particular day, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, etc. Today, the floriculture industry in India pays through its nose to buy good planting material from European sources. This makes the work undertaken by Mukherjee and his team all the more important.
Research done at Palampur on plant viruses has led to the recognition of this lab as a major center for plant virus research. This work is particularly important to help floriculturists when their crops are attacked by dreaded viruses.

Another thrust area for the lab, which is having significant impact on the regional economy, is essential oils from aromatic plants, a passion of Paramvirsingh Ahuja, director of the lab. Work in this area has resulted in the release of a Damask Rose (Rosa damascena), a variety rich in rose oil. Oil from this flower can fetch up to Rs.3 lakh per kilo in today’s market. According to Ahuja, the aroma of cash flow is bringing many farmers from not only Himachal but even Punjab, who are tired of growing wheat and basmati rice, with diminishing returns, and who are ready to take new risks.

India is one of the largest producers of essential oils in the world. IHBT, however, is concentrating on two things in this area. One: producing inexpensive designs distilling equipment, so that farmers can themselves put up oil extraction plants. (The natural products group led by V.K. Kaul has already developed and transferred the design of distillation plants to some fabricators. The farmers can now realise higher value, instead of selling bulk material to middlemen.) Two: to develop the technology to farm high-value aromatic plants like lavender, geraniums, etc.

However, what makes this lab a truly Himalayan Bioresource Technology Lab is its focus on the need to identify, preserve, and harness the vast biodiversity of the Himalayas. These mountains, which protect the plains of India form the harsh, cold winds from Tibet, are also recognised the world over as repositories of several important medicinal plants. For example, important anti-cancer drugs are extracted from Himalayan plants like Taxus Picrorhiza kurroa, a plant known for hepato-protective activity, and hypericum, whose anti-AIDS activity has been reported.

These plants are rare to find, difficult to grow, and are facing extinction due to unscrupulous exporters and uncaring pharmaceutical companies. The lab is quietly working on locating areas of concentration of such plants along with the Department of Space and Department of Biotechnology, so that satellite imagery can be used to locate a medicinal plant high up on the mountains. The lab is also developing the technology to “domesticate” such plants so that they can be grown in large quantities in controlled conditions.

“What’s new about this, after all, tissue culture is the answer,” one might ask. But life is not that simple. Many important medicinal plants grow in very severe conditions. In fact, there is a theory that severe conditions induce plants to produce the all-important alkaloids and metaboloids that yield drug molecules. In that case how can we grow them in less severe climates in labs and hothouses and still harvest the same amount of phytochemicals? “It took mankind about 10,000 years to domesticate wild rice and wheat, so we cannot hope to domesticate wild medicinal plants without intensive research and using modern biotechnology,” says Ahuja.

Aware of the wealth hidden in the Himalayas, the lab has a special biodiversity group made up of scientists like Brij Lal and S.K Vats, who wander in remote areas high up in the mountains, which are difficult to access, in search of the rare medicinal plants. Naturally you need to be a good mountain trekker and a naturalist of the 19th century mould – a rare combination indeed. In fact, Brij Lal belongs to a rare breed called ethnobotanists, who specialise not only in being good botanists and taxonomists but who also learn dialects of the tribals, befriend them in remote areas, and tap into their knowledge base of folk medicine. Ethnobotanists collect the plants used by tribals and nomads for medicinal purposes, identify them in modern botanical terms, preserve the plant material in herbaria, and so on. Today CSIR is involved in a major hush-hush programme of tapping India’s vast knowledge base of Ayurveda, Unani, Siddha, and tribal medicine in search of new wonder drugs. IHBT has a key role to play in this due to its knowledge of the Himalayas.

A search by IHBT in the Lahaul-Spiti valley for plants which are able to withstand the cold desert conditions has led to detection and isolation of the gene which makes a plant resistant to cold. According to Manju Sharma, secretary Department of Biotechnology, an international patent has been filed on this discovery.

Clearly, this lean and young lab, perched at the foot of the Dhavaldhar Himalayas, is showing how to use technology, high or low, to greater economic good of the region.

Trekking in Annapurna Himalayas, Nepal

Business India, May 17-30, 1999
Annapurna, an extreme close up

Nepal provides unparalleled trekking opportunities in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas for even rookie trekkers

Shivanand Kanavi

If one wants to be in the serene presence of magnificent snowcapped peaks of the Himalayas without being hardcore climbers and trekkers then the best area is around the Anna­purna range in north central Nepal bordering Tibet. The range includes such giants as Annapurna I - 8,091 metres, Machhapuchre (Fish Tail) ­6,993 m, Niligiri-7,061 m, Dhavalgiri -8,167 m, Tukuche-6,920m, Tilicho - 7,134 m and so on. The most endearing aspect of trekking in the Anna­purna region is the handshaking distance from the awe-inspiring peaks.

The trekking routes in the area orig­inate from Pokhara, a major city in Nepal. The city itself is located in a valley (altitude 833 m) and is blessed with the beautiful Phewa lake. Here you will have the unique opportunity of boating in the Phewa tal surrounded by green hills like Sarangkot (1,600 m) while actually gazing at the Annapurna and Machha­puchre peaks, nearly 8,000 metres up in the sky. There are many options for a trekker in this region depending on his physical capabilities and the time he can spend, starting with a two-day trek to week long treks and even two and three week long treks.

Annapurna sanctuary
If you have a week at your disposal then there are two options. One is to start from Pokhara, go to Ghorepani (2,700 m) and come back. The other is to reach Jomsom (2,700 m) and fly back or fly to Jomsom and trek back to Pokhara. The Pokhara-Ghorepani­-Pokhara trek is known as the Anna­purna sanctuary trek. This trek takes you into thickly-forested areas from the tropical to the rhododendron forests. The brightly-coloured pink and red rhododendrons are the national flowers of Nepal and blossom in April, brightening up the whole forest. As you near Ghorepani one then rises into coniferous forests as well. Needless to say, one gets darshan of the Annapurna range intermit­tently as a lot of paths are in the valleys. One is also constantly surrounded by not only flora but also mountain springs and waterfalls. 01 course since there are many steep climbs and downhills on this route you better have strong knees. You feel the pinch especially when coming downhill. It is definitely advisable to take a guide-cum-porter.

On day one you reach Sarangkot, stay there, get up early and see the glorious sunrise on Annapurna and then walk down to Navapool on the Jomsom-Baglung highway. From Navapool cross over to Birethanthi which is at the confluence of the rush­ing waters of Modi and Bhurungdi. One can continue from Birethanthi along Bhurungdi river and can end day two at Ramghar. Since most of this trek is in the valleys, it gets dark pretty fast and a sweaty afternoon turns pretty quickly into a freezing evening even in May. By 7:00 pm one might actually end up sitting around the boiler in an inn to get warmed up. Due to the presence of thick forests in the area one frequently encounters sudden rains and hailstorms in the afternoons.

On the third day one rises up from the river valley and climbs the step steps of Tikhedunga and stop at Ulleri (2,073 m). The climb involves a rise of more than 5,000 feet in one day by climbing over 3,000 steps. The glorious views of the valley compensate for the huffing and puffing. But huff and puff shamelessly so that the body gets as much oxygen as possible and as quickly as possible. The fourth day you climb up from Ulleri to Ghorepani (2,700 m). Stay at Ghorepani and next day morning rush to Poon Hill nearby, which is another 500 feet up. The panoramic view of the whole Anna­puma range from Poon Hill is unbeliev­able. On the fifth day start climbing down from Ghorepani and reach Tada­pani. The path goes through thick forest and when you reach Tadapani in the evening, with every limb aching, there is a glorious view of the Machha­puchre waiting for you at about 7:30 pm. When the valley is dark, the peak is lit up with the unearthly golden yellow rays of sunset. It will be one of those sights in your life which cannot be writ­ten about, nor captured in film, but which remain imprinted in your mind.

On sixth day you start from Tada­pani and reach Ghandrung (1,951 m), a lovely village full of gurungs. On day seven travel down from Ghandrung via Shoule Bazaar to Birethanthi and Navapool. At Navapool one reaches the Pokhara-Baglung highway, and one can provide the luxury of a one-­and-a-half hour bus ride back to Pokhara to one's aching limbs.

Dhavalgiri, shaligrams and…..
The other option, if you have only a week to ten days is to fly from Pokhara to Jomsom and trek back to Pokhara, which is known as the Annapurna circuit. Jomsom (2,700 m) is the head­quarters of Mustang district bordering Tibet. The place is also the nearest airport to thefamous Muktinath peak (3,800 m) which is a major pilgrim centre mentioned even in the Mahab­harat. The pious rich who want to visit the Vishnu temple at Muktinath can also charter a helicopter from Jomsom perform their puja and get back to Jomsom the same day. By trekking it takes three days, mainly due to acclimatisation required at the high altitude.

Jomsom town lies in the valley of Kali Gandaki, a river apparently older than the Himalayas. The moun­tain flight from Pokhara takes only 20 minutes but gives you memorable views of the Himalayas and even the brightly-coloured rhododendron forests. When you reach Jomsom, the towering peaks of Nilgiri and Tilicho watch over you at all times in the clear mountain air. The closeness of the mountains can be guessed from the fact that a snow avalanche on the Nilgiri North peak could easily be heard from Jomsom town. Once you reach Jomsom spend a day in the town to acclimatise yourself. There is a well­ documented eco-museum where one can spend at least an hour or two fruit­fully. The museum depicts various aspects of history, geology, botany, culture and legends of Mustang district.

Scattered pearls of wisdom

How to get there by Air: Fly to Kathmandu and then take a local flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara. For the last leg take a mountain flight from Pokhara to Jomsom.
By Rail and Road: Reach Gorakhpur by rail from where the Nepal border at Sunauli is three hous away. Cross the border and get a bus or a taxi to Pokhara. (5-10 hours depending on the mode of transport). One can drive an Indian registered vehicle into Nepal; however the authorities at the border take away the Indian number plate and provide you with a temporary Nepali number plate.
Travel documents: Indians do not need a passport or visa and Indian currency is widely accepted all over Nepal.
Special Tips: If you are going to cross the border by road then be prepared for harassment form Indian customs and police when you are returning. You can be saved a lot of embarrassment it you register mobile phone, cameras and any other electronic goods that you are taking into Nepal with the Indian customs post at the border right when you are entering.
Accommodation & food: There are a large number of inns that provide decent accommodation in every village around Annapurna. The rooms cost anywhere from Rs20 Nepali (Rs100=Rs160 Nepali) to Rs300 N. The inns more than make up for it in their food bills, which can run up to Rs500 N per person per day. A coke which costs Rs15 N at Pokhara can cost Rs 60 N at Jomsom or Ghorepani as it has to be hauled up on mule back. It is best to stick to dal - bhat, Nepal’s national dish and Tibetan bread with honey or eggs. In fact, it is always safe to stick to the local dish, since the cooks know it best! People who have eaten masala dosa in Delhi and parotha or puri-bhaji in Tiruvananthapuram would swear by this wisdom.
Drink: Try hot lemon juice and even tato pani (hot water) after a tiring day or even in the early morning. If you are a tea drinker from India ask for Nepali chay. It is inexpensive and exquisitely brewed with tea, ginger and cinnamon. If you want to try local alcoholic drinks, go for home-made millet brews like chhang or rakshi. In villages like Marpha an Tukuche, there are local distilleries that manufacture brandies from locally- grown apricots, apples and oranges.
Guides and porters: If you are past your twenties and are used to a sedentary lifestyle then it is better to hire a guide-cum–porter at Pokhara. They charge anywhere from Rs.400 N to Rs.1,000 N a day.
Equipment: Nothing, except a camera or a camcorder to record at least a tiny bit of the natural splendour. Because of the abundance of inns for trekkers at every village on all the trekking routes, one does not need tents or even a sleeping bag unless one is going to Tilicho lake.

Interestingly at Kagbeni near Jomsom on the way to Muktinath, one can still find 100 million-year-old fossils of marine animals. These fossils are major evidence for the theory of continental drift, according to which, 65 million years ago there was a sea where the Himalayas stand today and the Indian tectonic plate came and hit the Tibetan plate leading to the forma­tion of the Himalayas. A common fossil one finds in ammonite rocks is that of a conch. These fossilised conches are revered by devout Hindus as symbols of Vishnu and are called shaligram. If you are not lucky enough to find a shaligram on the Kali Gandaki riverbed then you could always buy one from the numer­ous Tibetan souvenir traders that you will find on the trek.

On the Jomsom-pokhara trek, start from Jomsom after spending a day at Jomsom. Reach Tukuche (2,591m) by evening after passing through Marpha. On day two, go from Tukuche via Kalopani to Ghasa (2,031m). The second day provides you with unparal­leled panoramic views of Dhavalgiri and Tukuche peaks from the Kali Gandaki riverbed. While trekking in the Kali Gandaki valley, a strong wind starts everyday at about 11:00 am till about 3 pm which carries a lot of dust. So make sure that you start as early as possible.

On day three start from Ghasa and reach Tatopani (1,189 m). This stretch passes through the world's deepest river valley which is over 7,000 feet deep. Tatopani means hot water and the name is derived from the hot water springs there, where one can wash away the tiredness from one's limbs. Tatopani also provides the best food in the entire route. On day four, start from Tatopani and reach Ghaleshor. If the first three days were more or less on level ground at about 10,000-8,000 feet along the Kali Gandaki river valley, the fourth day involves steep climbs up and down and the temperature also climbing as you come down to about 3,000 feet from 8,000 feet. The next day it takes a two-hour trek from Ghaleshor to Beni from where one can get a bus ride to Pokhara. The bus takes about four-and-a-half hours to reach Pokhara and goes through several steep ups and downs. A day's rest in Pokhara and boating on Phewa lake can top your trek.

For the more ambitious trekkers there is a 14-day trek from Pokhara to the Annapurna base camp (4,500 m) and back. There is a 28-day trek around Annapurna from Besishahar to Pokhara via Manang, Thorungla pass (5,416 m), Muktinath, Jomsom and back to Pokhara via Ghorepani or via Beni. If you have only seven days but want to do high altitude trekking then one can also fly from Pokhara to Hungde near Manang and trek to Tili­cho lake and back. Tilicho is a glaciated lake at about 15,500 feet and is one of the highest lakes in the world.

In short the Annapurna range is a goldmine for trekkers and can cater to all varieties from city slickers who want to stretch their limbs a bit, to hard core trekkers. What attracts literally lakhs from around the world every year to this region is of course the glorious views of the mountains and the friendly people. In fact one is yet to hear of a robbery or any sort of crime against trekkers in this area. So what are you waiting for, pack your rucksack, take a few thousand rupees and get ready to be overwhelmed by the Himalayas!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

PSLV Crash -Failure Analysis

Business India, January 17-30, 1994

What went wrong?

The Failure Analysis Committee's report

Shivanand Kanavi

The Failure Analysis Committee headed by N. Pant, to probe the failure of the PSL V -Dl flight launched from Shriharikota, on 20 September 1993, has submitted its report. Three factors have been identified as having caused the failure.

First is the time gap between switching off the second stage engine and switching the third stage engine. Second, some retro-rockets failed to get fired after the second stage separated from the third stage, leading to an imbalance. And third, there was an error in the control software. How these three factors com­bined to plunge the Rs.45crore PSLV ­D1 into the Bay of Bengal is a revealing tale of the technological complexities of such a mission.

Theorising, modelling, and simu­lating possible scenarios started in ISRO in earnest right after the mission failed. Simultaneously, the Space Commission launched an independent probe, through the Failure Analysis Committee, ploughing through the 100,000 pages of telemetric data from the launch vehicle.

Control systems
To understand what went wrong it is essential to understand how the vehicle is controlled. The rocket is under con­trol only when the main thrust motors are firing. Any deviations from the flight path due to disturbances in the pitch, yaw or roll of the vehicle, are then set right by firing the control systems.

In the period between one stage being shut down and another being ignited there is no control. This gap is unavoidable due to the number of operations required for a clean separation of the stages.

The second and third stages are sepa­rated by exploding a ring of explosive embedded in the casing that shears the alu­minium alloy. At that time, though sepa­rated, the second and third stages will still be moving with more or less the same velocity. If there is even a small imbalance in velocities, the jettisoned second state can hit the third stage.

To prevent such a mishap retro-rockets are fitted to the jettisoned part and are fired along with the separation explosion so that the jettisoned part is slowed down slightly. It is in order to complete these operations smoothly, that a small gap is kept between shutting one stage's engine and firing the next. If liquid propellants are used, the engine can get hiccups when the fuel is over. So it is advisable to shut it off before the fuel gets exhausted.

Earlier ground simulations had given ISRO grounds to believe that if there was a three-second gap between the separation of stage two and three, nothing drastic would happen. But now, in the light of PSLV-Dl having failed, it is felt that the three-second gap may have been too large, allowing errors to multiply dangerously. Hence, the committee suggests this gap should be reduced.

The second flaw was that all the retro-­rockets did not ignite to slow down the jettisoned stage. This caused a slight imbalance in the jettisoned stage, and could have hit the third stage before ignition. It is conjectured that the firing circuits of the two retro-rockets got so dis­turbed by the explosive separation that they did not fire. Hence, further isolation and protection of these circuits from the shearing explosion has been recom­mended.

Error compounded
The third problem with PSLV-D1 was a software error caused by the 'overflow' in a control parameter. What it means is that the control software in the mother console was designed to handle variations in a par­ticular parameter, between, let us say, plus (+) or minus (-) 99.99. Now when that parameter crosses, say, -99.99 and reaches -100.00, the seven characters in ­100.00 could not be recognised and so the software ignores the bit representing the ‘-’ (minus) sign. The result was that in the flight a control command geared to correct a parameter of say -99.99 was suddenly changed by default to that required for + 100.00, while the system was actually suffering from a deviation of -100.00.

Thus the control command from the computer instead of correcting an error, actually compounded it. ISRO is debug­ging the control software to remove any other such glitches. Some believe that despite the problems created by the retro­rockets, etc, the vehicle could still have been controlled if the correct command had reached the control systems. (Incidentally, such software errors are not unusual. NASA's space shuttle mis­sion had to be grounded in 1988 when similar software errors were found and all the five on-board computers had to be debugged.)

The rocket motors for the second flight, PSLV-D2, in 1994, are under con­struction. The corrections required will not lead to any major design changes. In fact, but for this mishap in the separation of stage two and three, all other systems (including many new technologies) have worked remarkably well. Thus, despite the truism in space flights anything less than 100 per cent success is a failure', the PSLV-D1 flight is considered a 90 per cent success.

PSLV Success

Business India, October 24-November 6, 1994

The great leap forward

The successful launch of the PSLV puts India’s satellite launch capacity on a firmer footing

Shivanand Kanavi

The countdown started at 10:02, thirty minutes prior to launch (T­-30:00). As the minutes ticked away, each of the hundreds of scientists and engineers manning different stations reported to the mission control about the health of the sub-system he was monitoring.

Suddenly, as the launch sequence was being initiated, at T -14:50, the Precision Coherent Monopulsed C band (PCMC) Radar that would track the launch reported 'carrier loss' - it was not receiv­ing signals from the C band transponder placed in the PSLV. The countdown was immediately stopped, raising the spectre of an aborted launch.

The tension in the mission control cen­tre, and even in the press room 7 kill away from the launch pad, was palpable. Three minutes passed in attempts to restore the connection; then, the mission director Madhavan Nair gave the go ahead for the launch, despite the problem. In a complex space mission, the risk of mission failure due to malfunction of a single component or subsystem is extremely high; hence there is redundancy built in, so that if something fails, then its back up can take over. And that is exactly what happened . Another channel was switched on, the mission director saw that minimum con­figuration was achieved and gave the all important go ahead.

The countdown was, resumed and, step by step, the rocket was detached from the launch pad as the internal systems took over. The power was cut from the ground and the internal bat­teries switched on. Twelve minutes before launch the automatic launch sequence was initi­ated and the onboard computers took charge.

At 10:35 precisely, amidst billowing clouds of smoke, the first stage assisted by two strap-on boosters appeared to a novice's eye to be struggling to lift the mammoth 300-tonne rocket and start it on an accelerating trajectory that would achieve speeds up to 25,000 km per hour before injection into orbit. Then, with an ear-splitting roar, it roared up and as the ignition, separation and success of each stage was announced, cheering broke out in the control room .

But it was clearly still too early for self-congratulations. The mission would not be complete till the injection of the satellite into its designated orbit nearly 17 minutes after lift off. The grim memories, of the first developmental fligt of PSLV plunging into the Bay of Bengal into the Bay of Bengal a few minute after lift-off in last September, were too fresh. It was only when the on-line data showed that the fourth stage had sepa­rated from the satellite and steered itself out of orbit, that the tension gave way to elation and an overwhelmed Kasturi Ran­gan, chairman of the Space Commission, hugged his colleagues.

Later, when a galaxy of space scientists including Kasturi Rangan, Satish Dhawan, Yash Pal, Abdul Kalam, S.C. Gupta, N.S. Pant, Deekshithalu, P. Kale and Madhavan Nair addressed thousands of ISRO scien­tists and technicians in an open air audito­rium, words seemed superfluous. Twelve years of toil had finally paid off and the bit­ter disappointment of a failed launch was overcome. Every one to a man had a proud smile on his face.

The drama of the PSLV's successful launch is worth recording at some length. Mere description of the payload, orbital characteristics, thrusts generated by dif­ferent stages and myriad other details do not bring out a living picture of our space programme or the significance of the PSLV. After the failure of PSLV D-1. ISRO personnel and the fault analysis committee had ploughed through 100,000 pages of data, to discover an overflow error in the control software. Instead of correcting a deviation in the course caused by the failure of retro rock­ets during the separation of second and third stages, this overflow aggravated the tilt, which made the rocket tumble uncontrollably into a suborbital flight and plunge into the Bay of Bengal.

In PSLV D-2, this overflow error was corrected, the positioning of the actuator for the flex nozzle of stage three was altered, and the time gap between the burn-out of the second stage and ignition of the third stage, during which the rocket coasts along without control, was cut down. Even after all these improvements, if the desired 817 km-radius, sun-sychro­nous, circular-polar orbit was not achieved then a fall-back programme on the onboard computer would allow the satellite to be injected into a lower, 770 km orbit. No wonder, some ISRO top guns were so sure of success that one of them, who could not be present at the launch; left a post-dated congratulatory message! ,

The remote sensing satellite IRS P-2 that was launched had also undergone some improvements. It carries two Linear Imaging Self Scanner-II (LISS-II) cameras connected to a single optical unit, thus saving on costs and weight. In satellite technology, anything that saves weight of the payload is a most welcome development, since each kg added to the payload requires tones of added thrust at the lower stages. That is why multistage rocket design, where each stage provides a certain thrust and falls off, is so popular. Once the fuel is exhausted, the empty motors and casing need not be carried along into orbit.

The PSLV incorporates a number of new technologies, as compared to the earlier SLV and ASLV. It is the first rocket in Indian space programme, where liquid ­fuelled engines have been used for pri­mary propulsion. The first stage comprises third largest solid-fuelled booster in the world, after the American space shuttle and the Titan boosters. New technologies include the gimbaled motors for the liquid-fuelled second and fourth. stage, flex nozzle for the solid fuelled third stage, the Redundant Strap- down Inertial Navigation System, and the heat shield, which protects the satellite and the fourth stage from the atmosphere and opens at an altitude of about 120 km.

A number of new materials like the super alloy maraging steel for the giant first stage casings, new propellants for all stages and Kevlar and Titanium alloy for the third and fourth stages, were also developed. In short, PSLV was ten times more complex than the earlier generation ASLV.

Though ISRO has a vast network of centres in Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Sriharikota and Ahmedabad, it has constantly endeavoured to transfer technology to industry and involve them as suppliers. Thus Larsen & Toubro and Walchandnagar Industries precision- machined the motor casings made of maraging steel for PSLV stage one. NOCIL manufactured hundreds of tonnes of Hydroxyl Terminated Poly Butadiene, the high powered solid propellant for the main booster rocket. The liquid-fuelled engine for the second stage named Vikas was an engineering marvel jointly manufactured and assembled by Hyderabad based MTAR and Godrej. When PSLV: D-1 failed, ISRO'S 150-odd vendors were naturally concerned that the systems sup­plied by them had been the cause. They heaved a collective sigh of relief when the software error was detected.

But does the successful launch mean we are ready to offer PSLV as a commercial vehicle to launch remote sensing satellites in polar orbits? The answer is: not yet. The next developmental, flight of PSLV is sometime next year and a new series of three more flights are being planned. Work has already started in ISRO to increase the payload to reach the magic figure of one tonne so that large remote sensing satellites like the coming IRS 1-D can be launched indigenously. So far, IRS 1-A and 1-B have been launched from the Russian cosmodrome at Baikanour, as will 1-C be in late 1995.

Interestingly, the existing rocket can launch a payload weighing a little over one and a half tonnes into a polar sun-syn­chronous orbit. But as the trajectory from Sriharikota crosses Sri Lanka" and no country allows a rocket to over fly its terri­tory, the rocket has to accomplish a com­plicated yaw manoeuvre, before it reaches the desired orbit. This limits the weight of the payload.

It is important to note that India's most ambitious space programme yet, the GSLV, which can provide it capabilities to launch -2.5 tonne communication satel­lites, is largely made up of stage one and two of PSLV. Only a third cryogenic stage needs to be developed. A few cryogenic engines have been bought from the Rus­sians to start the programme. By building on its own INSAT 2-A and 2-B, India has already demonstrated its ability to build world class communication satellites. Thus, in a real sense, PSLV's success is a stepping stone to the ambitious GSLV.

Can the PSLV be used to launch Motorola’s Iridium network, the global cellular phone network based on 77 low earth orbiting satellites? The answer is 'yes' but again 'not yet'. Iridium consists of a large number of polar satellites weighing around 400 to 600 kg and orbiting at about 600 km. Thus, once the tech­nology to launch independently targeted multiple satellites is mastered then PSLV can launch a cluster of 3-4 low earth com­munication satellites for Iridium type of projects. Since there are not enough launch vehicles in the world to launch 77 satellites in quick succession, one can, expect PSLV to play a role in this.

Another question normally asked is whether the PSLV can be use to launch reconnaissance satellites. Technically, the answer is 'yes'. After all, they are small satellites orbiting at an altitude of around 300 km altitude. They need to orbit at low altitudes to get good resolution, that is the ability to discern small objects. However, due to friction with rarefied atmosphere, their life is shortened.

Can PSLV technology be used for developing inter-continental ballistic missiles? Technically, "yes'. In fact, the Americans were barking up the, wrong tree when they twisted Russian arms to renege on the cryogenic deal. Cryogenic engines cannot be used for missiles of any kind, as it will take months to prepare them for flight and great expense to main­tain them in readiness. There is no single missile in the world in which cryogenic engines are being used. The most popular rocket is a solid-fuelled "booster. Although ISRO is not involved in military applications, DRDO is. Technically India can build ICBMS. It is a different issue that India can, ill afford to misspend vast resources in militarisation.

The timing of the flight and the unprece­dented invitation to the press to witness the, flight seems to have been a decision origi­nating in PMO - the obvious reasons being India’s pitch in the UN to be made a permanent member of the Security Council and secondly, the need to redeem ourselves in international eyes after the ignominy of the recent 'plague' outbreak. As a scribe exclaimed after the launch, "If we were Chinese, we would call 1994 the Year of the Prithvi, Plague and the PSLV!"

ISRO men in global space industry

Business India, February 8-21, 1999

Career launchpad

ISRO has launched the career of many a senior executive in the global satellite industry

Shivanand Kanavi

If one were to organise an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) alumni reunion, it could easily be mistaken for a conference of the global satellite industry. There would be high-level executives from Inmarsat, PanAmSat, World Space, Agrani, ICO­ Global, Lockheed Martin, Matra Marconi, and Loral, in essence, every player that counts in the bird business (see table).

"We are proud that a single Indian organisation has contributed so much talent to the global satellite industry. It is an acknowledgement of ISRO'S talent pool and capabilities," says Dr Kasturirangan, chairman, ISRO. He maintains that the talent flight has not affected the organisation. "While we do regret losing such highly trained and capable people, we cannot stop this. We have enough depth to replace such people; hence overall the space programme does not suffer."

ISRO alumni in the global satellite industry

Inmarsat: D V Ramana
ICO-Global: P Ramachandran, Y N Bhushan
Agrani: Jai P Singh, K Narayanan
World Space: M G Chandrasekhar, D Venugopal
Matra Marconi: Mrinal Saha
MTSat: K P M Bhat
Loral: P Damodaran, Devendra Verma
Intelsat: S Manoharan,
Discovery: Kiran Karnik

Every year ISRO loses about 150 people, mainly to the software industry. Besides new recruits, people who have been with ISRO for 10 years and who have taken on inde­pendent responsibilities also start looking for opportunities outside.

"We continue to recruit from regional engineering colleges and other good colleges. It depends on the projects on hand, but about 300-350 scientists and engineers are recruited every year," says Kasturirangan. ISRO is increasingly targeting MTechs rather than BTechs as many private sector companies are doing, and encourages them to do an in-house PhD as well in a specialised field.

Nonetheless, thanks to the Fifth Pay Commission, ISRO'S packages at the entry level are now as good as in the private sector, except probably for software. A new recruit gets above Rs.15,000 on a monthly cost-to­-company basis, though at the senior level people do not find it very attrac­tive monetarily. For example, the chairman himself gets a pay package of around Rs30,000 and a few perks like housing and car.

Jai Singh, CEO of Agrani Satellite Communications and an ISRO alum­nus, concurs that the organisation has very good depth in its management ranks. Singh left ISRO in 1988 after a 15-year stint. Says he: "The work, albeit hi-tech, was getting a bit routine. I had no other problems at ISRO. It was for personal reasons- I wanted my family to get an interna­tional environment and so on -that I took on the Inmarsat assignment."

K. Narayanan, who was Insat programme director and director of satellite communications at the Department of Space and is now executive vice-president at Agrani, suggests: "ISRO people should be allowed to work in Indian industry for a couple of years and join back. That will help both sides. The hi-tech devel­oped within ISRO will get transferred to industry and they will bring back industry practices in cost-cutting, customer service, and so on."

Kasturirangan is all for lateral movement of professionals into ISRO. "Already an MS or PhD from a decent university abroad with some experience is taken in directly. They can send in their CVs any time. Professionals working in India are also taken in through advertisements."

Some engineers feel ISRO restricts their career mobility. Being a govern­ment organisation, it discourages
employees with over 10 years of service from taking voluntary retirement and joining the private sector, by stipulating a two-year 'cooling off' period. Such a rule makes sense in cases where, for example, a bureaucrat might award a government contract to a private sector company and then leave to join the same company as a quid pro quo. But engineers today would turn down any company that restricts their mobility.

ISRO is an organisation with over 18,000 personnel and has been successful in a hi-tech area on a shoe­string budget. Naturally it has become a favourite for headhunters. It should be given a free hand by the govern­ment to formulate a liberal HRD policy which takes cognisance of market real­ities. However, ISRO would benefit by networking the wider ISRO parivar. Almost all of them hold fond memo­ries, and would help ISRO gain an entry into the $60-billion global space industry.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Business India, November 30-December 13, 1998

Fish curry, feni, and oceanography

The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, is learning to merge good oceanography with commercially exploitable R&D and consultancy services

Shivanand Kanavi

Serious study of various aspects of the deep sea at the National Insti­tute of Oceanography (NIO) does not jell with the stereotype of life in Goa, carefree and fun-loving. Dr Ehrlich Desa, the director, NIO, is a rarity himself. A well-known oceanographer and one of the first Indian scientists to explore the Antarctic in the mid­1980s, he is neither a geologist nor a marine biologist, as most oceanogra­phers are He is actually an electronics engineer who specialised in instru­mentation. However, Desa does not rest on his past laurels. Ask him about the Antarctic expeditions and he brushes the query aside. "That is history. My task now is to lead NIO in the current environment, where we have to do first-rate oceanography while earning revenue."

However combining good science with commercially useful R&D is a daunting task. Till recently, the major­ity of the 40-odd laboratories of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) produced neither. The autarky of the 1970s and 1980s proclaimed import substitution, not globally competitive technology, as the goal of lndian R&D. However things started to change in the late 1980s. For example, the National Chemical Labo­ratory (NCL) in Pune built up a reputa­tion for good science, global patents, and impressive dollar revenues. R.A. Mashelkar inspired other laboratories to do the same when he moved from NCL to become the director-general of CSIR in 1995. Today NIO, like many other CSIR laboratories, is buzzing with Mashelkar's slogan "research as business".

To describe the work being done at NIO, you are forced to state the obvi­ous. Oceans are vast. So is the scope of oceanography. For academic conve­nience, oceanography is divided into physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, biological oceanogra­phy, ocean engineering, geophysics, and soon.

How do the ocean floors change when continents drift? What are the effects of vast amounts of sediments being brought in by the great rivers of the world, like the Indus and the Ganges? Which are the red-hot spots of submarine volcanic activity? Such questions are studied by physical oceanographers.

Similarly, sea water is not just salty water, say the chemical oceanogra­phers. It is a rich storehouse of chemi­cals. Indian chemical oceanographers often compare their work to the myth­ical" samudra manthan" - the churn­ing of the seas that brought forth an amazing number of things, from nectar to the most potent toxins.

By now, the variegated colours of marine life have reached the living rooms of people, thanks to Jacques Cousteau's underwater TV footage. Biological oceanographers study all forms of life in the oceans, from plank­ton and algae to whales. It is a fasci­nating subject. Many marine creatures exist in high-pressure depths. Temper­atures too vary from the very cold of the Antarctic to the very hot of subma­rine volcanoes. Some marine species have survived for millions of years without appreciable change, like the shark and the horseshoe crab. Dr Anil Chatterjee at NIO has been studying the latter - a species of crab aptly called "the living fossil". He has inter­esting discoveries to his credit that can be very useful to the pharmaceutical and paints industries (see box).

Treasure hunt in the Indian Ocean
NIO has a dedicated team of treasure hunters. No, they are not looking for sunken Spanish gold, but for valuable metals at the bottom of the oceans. Many metals like copper, nickel, manganese, and cobalt exist in sea water in minute amounts. Over time these metals precipitate out and form nuggets as big as potatoes on the ocean floor. Early discoverers of these nuggets, more than a century ago, called them "black potatoes". However surveying ocean floors, collecting samples of these polymetallic nodules, analysing them, assessing the economic potential of these deposits, and so on, requires expensive ships, oceano­graphic expertise, and lots of hard work on board. NIO scientists developed this expertise with leased oceanographic ships in the 1980s. In fact, in 1987, the UN recognised India as a pioneer investor and, in fact, registered India's deep-sea mining claim ­the first ever by any country.

Since then, NIO scientists using the R/V Sidorenko in 1994-95 discovered rich ferromanganese deposits on the Afanasiy-Nikitin sea mount 1,000 km southeast of Sri Lanka in the north central Indian Ocean. The sea mount exists at a depth of 1.5 km. The nodules found here are rich in cobalt as well (as reported by NIO scientists V.K. Bankar, J.N. Pattan, and A.V. Mudholkar in Marine Geology, 136, 1997, pp299-31 5). However Bankar, true to NIO'S circumspect tradition, says: "The crust has substantial signifi­cance both in terms of R&D and economic potential, but I feel it is premature to give it publicity. We still have to investigate the extent of coverage of the sea mount by this crust. Moreover, no mining technology is yet available for this kind of deposit." In an atmosphere of grand announcements of unverified "break­throughs" (remember press conferences organised amidst great fanfare not so long ago about breakthroughs in cold fusion and high-temperature superconductors!), this circumspection is welcome.

Similarly, marine organisms yield millions of different molecules which can be a rich source of active ingredients for the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Appropri­ately, NIO has initiated a 'Drugs from the Sea' programme. Dr Raghu Kumar and other NIO scientists studying certain fungi found in the mangroves have discovered some chemicals with bleaching properties. These could reduce the chlorine intake of the paper industry by half, which in turn would reduce the load of effluent treatment.

NIO also has an active team of oceanographers who are studying the effect of oceans on weather systems. Their work will be greatly assisted by the Indian Space Research Organisa­tion's Oceansat, which is going to be launched soon. Oceansat is a remote sensing satellite which will provide extensive data on ocean surface temperatures. Study of this data can lead to a better understanding of complex global weather phenomena like the monsoons or El Nino.

The Crab man

Animal rights activists would just love him. Dr Anil Chatterjee's discoveries, when commercially exploited by the pharma­ceutical industry, will save the lives of quite a few rabbits. Phar­maceutical companies producing injectibles have to certify them for no contamination and the Indian Pharmacopoeia (IP) prescribes that the sample of the drug be injected into a rabbit and the effects seen after 48 hours. The drug is safe only if the rabbit survives. But this is not a fail-safe test. Recently, batches of injectibles exported from India have been rejected for failing more rigorous tests. The USFDA insists that injectibles be tested using a chemical found in the limulus horseshoe crab. The chem­ical, Limulous Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL), can detect even a single bacterium present in the sample. Now the IP too has changed the rules to allow the LAL test. Today India imports some Rs.80-90 crore worth of LAL from the US. There are six companies world­wide that produce LAL by extracting it from the blood of the horseshoe crab.

Dr Anil Chatterjee of the bio-oceanography group at NIO has spent years studying the horseshoe crab - the oldest living species on earth. Chatterjee has found that the blood of another. "species of horseshoe crab, called the trachypheus, found off the coast of Orissa, can be used to extract Trachypheus Amoebocyte Lysate (TAL), which is as effective as LAL. He has also patented a method to extract 20 per cent of the crab's blood without killing it. His current ambition is to develop a cloning process to produce TAL so that no more horseshoe crabs need be killed.

Billions of blistering, bilious barnacles!
We are not quoting Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics. It is an exclamation of every mariner who finds his newly painted ship soon covered with colonies of barnacles and molluscs. But ye ancient mariners, have patience, research at NIO might help you soon!

While at his favourite pastime of crab-watching, Chatterjee has made another discovery: that male horseshoe crabs have barnacles and molluscs clinging to their backs, while the female of the species is squeaky clean! Investigating the phenomenon further he has isolated a chemical (glycoprotein) in the female that has this anti-fouling property. If this glycoprotein can be synthesised then marine paints will get a powerful anti-fouling ingredient

The geophysics department at NIO, along with the National Geophysical Research Laboratory, Hyderabad, have carried out seismic surveys on the continental slopes of India and detected the presence of gas hydrates (frozen methane gas) at several places. This work might help India solve its hydrocarbon problem in the long run. At depths like 600m below the ocean floor, where the pressure is high and the temperatures low, methane and other components of natural gas can solidify into ice as hydrates. A tonne of hydrates brought up to the surface will yield 0.8 tonnes of water and 168 cubic metres of natural gas. So mastering exploration and mining of gas hydrates could be the key to overcom­ing the severe hydrocarbon shortage in India.

“The least glamorous of all depart­ments at NIO is ocean engineering," says Dr P. Chandramohan, assistant director of the ocean engineering divi­sion. But the ocean engineers are the institute's bread and butter and jam! Every project along the coast of India, be it in petrochemicals, oil refining, steel, cement, ports, and so on, has to get an environmental impact survey done by NIO'S ocean engineers for clearance.

It is clear that, slowly, Desa and his team at NIO are learning to combine good science with its commercially exploitable applications. Today Mashelkar is proud of the work being done at NIO. Situated next to the romantic legend of Dona Paula and the white sands of Miramar beach, this centre of excellence is quietly proclaiming: “Goa is not just fish curry and feni, but oceanography too."

ISRO--Remote Sensing

Business India, February 28-March 13, 1994

Remotely sensing profits

Remote sensing is becoming important in corporate planning

Shivanand Kanavi

What do ITC, Tata Tea, Tata Chemi­cals, Indal, Gujarat' Ambuja and fishermen's cooperatives in the west coast of India have in common? They are among the more than 700 users of Satellite Remote Sensing data from the Indian Remote Sensing satellites, IRS-IA and IRS-IB. ITC, the cigarette giant, is using remote sensing to get advance intelli­gence on the tobacco harvest to better pre­dict the price of tobacco when it comes to the market. They have also used it to study sunflower and soybean crops in certain districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Similarly Tata Tea is using it to scout for land that is suitable for tea plantations. Tata Chemicals is using RS to try better watershed management and cropping pat­terns to help the drought-hit villagers around their plant in Mithapur, Gujarat. They are also using it to survey siliceous limestone reserves near their cement plant for possible sourcing. According to Dr Manu Seth, Tata Chem's deputy manag­ing director, they are very interested in developing remote sensing applications to study the post harvest soil condition with respect to nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous content over whole districts. This will help them to advise farmers about the right mix of fertiliser inputs. With their own urea plant coming up at Babrala, UP, this novel application of remote sensing will not only help farmers with scientific information but also help Tata Chern estimate demand and adjust production accordingly. Similarly a num­ber of companies, like Indal and Gujarat Ambuja Cements, are using remote sens­ing for geological prospecting.

The National Remote Sensing Agency at Hyderabad and National Natural Resources Management System and Regional Remote Sensing Service Cen­tres are together making considerable efforts to popularise the technology. They provide satellite data in various forms to Indian users at throwaway prices that are one-third of what a foreign user has to pay but even then internationally they are cheaper than the French, who are their main competitors. They also help in inter­preting it for specific applications. This service is being widely used by various government agencies and a large number of users from the private sector. Among them are 250 fishermen's cooperatives, for whom NRSA provides charts of the best fishing grounds off both the east and west coasts. It has been found that the catch along these recommended routes is at least 30 per cent more than that without the help of such charts.

It is a classic case of a technology developed for war finally being turned around for peaceful developmental pur­poses. After all, remote sensing was pio­neered in the US to locate Vietcong guerrillas hidden in the jungles of Indo­China. Remote sensing is based on the fact that different objects reflect or scatter dif­ferent amounts of electromagnetic energy in different wave length bands.

The electromagnetic spectrum spans wavelengths right from gamma rays to long radio waves. In remote sensing, the most useful regions are visible light, infra red and the microwaves. While passing through the atmosphere, electromagnetic radiation is scattered and absorbed by gases like oxygen, carbon dioxide and ozone and water vapour and dust. The absorption occurs at particular wave lengths whereas certain wavelengths pass through the atmosphere without much attenuation. These are called atmospheric windows.

The reflective or emissive properties of various surfaces at different wave­lengths are called their 'spectral signa­tures'. The spectral signatures combined with spatial variation of these signatures tell us about the size, shape and texture of objects. In case both these fac­tors are the same for two crops, then the temporal variation of reflectance comes to our rescue since for different crops in their growing period it is different. Apart from wavelength, another characteristic of electromagnetic radiation is polarization. The polarisation of reflected radiation also tells us about the object.

Spectral reflectance of vegetation, for example, is quite distinct and plant pig­ments, leaf structure and water content influence it in the visible, near infra red and middle infra red regions. Since vege­tation has maximum reflectance in the infra red, it always appears dark red In RS photographs instead of the usual green that we associate with vegetation. Hence RS photographs are also called 'false colour composites'.

Soil reflectance tells us, about moisture content, amount of organic matter; iron oxide present, relative percentages of clay, slit and sand and roughness of the soil surface. Water reflectance is influenced by its turbidity, etc.

The IRS satellite with a spe­cial camera called the Linear Imaging Self Scanner, based on charged coupled device technology, scans a piece of the earth's surface for radiation in four bands. l) 0.45-0.52 micron: This band is useful for mapping suspended sediments or water quality and various, studies related to coastal region. 2) O.52-0.59 micron: Sensitive towards vegetation discrimina­tion and ferric oxides. 3) 0.62-0.68 micron: Useful for green bio –mass estimation and crop yield studies.

The IRS-IA and IRS-IB carry three cameras. The LISS-I camera provides a picture covering 148.48 km in width with a resolution of 72.5 metres. The LISS-2A and 2B cameras provide a resolution of 36.25 metres and a width of74.24 km. The entire payload including the world class LISS cameras are being make in the Space Applications Centre at Ahmedabad. The data is digitised but requires corrections to be applied for the earth’s rotation and the roll- pitch –yaw motion of the satellite itself.

For furthers analysis of data one needs to know the exact spectral signatures of different crops, soils , terrains, etc, this is called 'ground truth' . The preliminary analysis is compared with actual detailed data from the ground in a small area. For example, if one is looking for cotton acreage under cultivation, probable yield and evidence of pests and disease afflicting the crop, then one needs to correlate satellite data with data from a typical cot­ton growing area.

Remote sensing cannot tell you what is inside the earth but the detailed study of topography can tell you about ground water potential and even probable areas for certain minerals. Recently it has been applied to find probable gold and tungsten bearing regions in Andhra Pradesh. Remote sensing applications in planning are innumerable. Inland aquaculture development, drought monitoring, irrigation an command area development, flood risk zone mapping, urban sprawl, land encroachment, study of forest cover, even damage assessment of forest fires, pipelines and major roads lying are just some of them.

Due to increasing demand for satellite data a whole industry of small scale entrepreneurs has come up around Bangalore and Hyderabad for manufacturing equipment required for data analysis and even consultancies which specialise in data analysis. The skills developed in India in analyzing IRS, Landsat and SPOT data have become so internationally competitive that when France wanted to do a survey on land use to settle subsidy claims of farmers, the contract was given to ISRO. Today, most Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres have become self sufficient indicating the popularity of RS. Besides ISRO has created a wide infrastructure by training over 5,500 spe cialists in the field.

To the credit of ISRO' s satellite tracking, telemetry and command team goes the fact that IRS-lA, whose design life was only three years, has been working like a charm for nearly six years due to astute handling of the satellite from the ground. The IRS-1A and 1B data is top class compared to the American Landsat and the I French SPOT data. In fact, since Landsat- 5 has become old and Landsat—6 launched in 1993 was lost in space (accidents in space do not happen in India alone!) and since IRS data is highly price competitive, compared to the French SPOT, there is tremendous potential to market IRS data in North America. Eosat a US company that is a major in global marketing of remote sensing products, has tied up with Antrix Corporation - set up to market Indian space technology worldwide - to do just that. In fact recognizing ISRO' s experience in building and operating ground stations at Bangalore, Lucknow and Mauritius, Eosat will buy ground receiving systems and data processing software also, from the department of space.

The next generation IRS-l C, to be launched in mid-1995 from Baikanour, Russia, is even more advanced and wjl1 provide stereoscopic data with LISS-3 that has three times higher resolution than LISS-l and 2.The satellite also has a big­ger power pack and, most important, the capacity to record and transmit later. The additional wide field sensor in IRS- 1 C will make it capable of looking at vegetation in an area Once in four days instead of the present 11 days. It is clear that painstaking efforts by ISRO scientists, since the late sixties to learn remote sens­ing data analysis, application develop­ment and even acquiring the capability to fabricate world class remote sensing satellites is finally paying off.