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India Launches Consortium to Develop Deep Space Technologies

The Indian Institute of Technology in Madras (IIT-Madras) has announced it will collaborate with five start-ups to develop an ecosystem to commercialise deep space technologies. The consortium is called the Indian Space Technologies and Applications Design Bureau (I-STAC.DB) and aims to create next-generation applications.

The consortium will focus on building an end-to-end self-reliant ecosystem in the country for space technologies from on-demand access to data and space. These include rapid launch capabilities, satellite design and assembly, sensors, future-generation communication (5G/6G), satellite security, ground stations, data processing, and geospatial application sectors.

According to a news report, key outcomes from the I-STAC.DB include the design and launch of rockets and spacecraft for additive manufacturing and the development of mobile platforms on land, air, and sea. Further, secure, reliable, and quickly repeatable satellite launches, precision navigation and ground station infrastructure, processor-based satellites, hyperspectral vision, photogrammetry and synthetic aperture radar sensors, and sensor fusion.

I-STAC.DB will focus on onboarding processing based on edge computing and deep learning in space, earth observation remote sensing, and inter-satellite communication within constellations. It will explore other satellite applications like data storage and management, besides space debris management, satellite cyber-physical security and anti-satellite countermeasures, capacity building, and space-data sciences.

Meanwhile, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) plans to launch three earth observation satellites (EOSs) in the last quarter of 2021. Two of them, EOS-4 (Risat-1A) and EOS-6 (Oceansat-3), will be launched using ISRO’S workhorse PSLV. The third one, EOS-2 (Microsat), will be launched in the first developmental flight of the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV), a news report by the Times of India stated. ISRO has completed an SSLV Payload Fairing (SPLF) functional qualification test successfully and other testing activities are in progress.

According to an official, ISRO aims to achieve the launches by the end of this year. However, as it will be using key indigenous systems like transmit and receive (TR) modules, traveling wave tube amplifiers (TWTA), and circulators to reduce imports, ISRO may spend time carrying out extensive tests to identify technical issues. The launch of the third satellite, EOS-4, marks the beginning of a new class of launch vehicles in the country. Earlier, India had a supply-driven model. After ISRO made satellites and offered them to government ministries and agencies, it began exploring a demand-driven model. The three satellites are meant for ministries like agriculture, home affairs, earth sciences, and the environment and forests. Unlike communication satellites where the entire capacity can be demanded by one customer, a single Earth observation satellite can cater to multiple customers as the data generated by these satellites can be analysed for different uses.

Recently, the Indian Prime Minister announced the Initiative of Indian Technology Congress Association’s 75 Student Satellites’ Mission 2022 programme, which will deploy 75 student-made satellites into space. To strengthen a science-based approach, India is promoting experience-based learning. The government has opened thousands of Atal Tinkering Labs and incubators across schools. A start-up ecosystem is being developed in the country, the Prime Minister said. The programme was made in collaboration with national and international tech-space organisations. The mission comprises a consortium of institutions that will develop and launch their own student-built satellites by 2022.

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