India's space agency successfully launched a new Earth-observation satellite today (May 21), boosting the nation's space-based surveillance capabilities.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) used a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle designated PSLV-C46 to launch its third radar imaging satellite, named RISAT-2B, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. The rocket lifted off at 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT, or 5:30 a.m. local time on May 22) just as the sun began to rise over the Bay of Bengal.
Equipped with an X-band synthetic aperture radar, RISAT-2B will be able to look through the clouds to observe Earth's surface day and night. Imagery from RISAT-2B can be useful for civilian purposes like agriculture and disaster relief management, ISRO officials said in a description of the mission. But it will also be used for surveillance purposes.
According to The Times of India, RISAT-2B will watch over India's borders and the country's surrounding waters to monitor for foreign threats. For example, it will be able to provide views of jihadi terror camps in the Kashmir region, which has long been the subject of a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan. "The RISAT satellite can take images of a building or an object on the earth at least two to three times a day," an ISRO official told The Times of India.
RISAT-2B will provide detailed images of Earth's surface with a resolution of about 3.3 feet (1 meter) as it orbits the Earth at an altitude of 346 miles (557 kilometers). Its orbit, which is inclined 37 degrees to the equator, won't enable global surveillance. Rather, the satellite's gaze will be fixed on India and Pakistan.
RISAT-2B will be the third satellite in India's radar imaging satellite program. The first, RISAT-2, launched in 2009 (before RISAT-1) after India expedited its development in response to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. RISAT-2 "took priority over RISAT-1 because of the advanced radar system," and its launch was fast-tracked "to boost surveillance capabilities of security forces," The Times of India reported. That was India's first reconnaissance satellite, and RISAT-2B is intended to replace it.
In 2012, India launched its second radar imaging satellite, RISAT-1. That satellite was never meant to be used for surveillance purposes. Rather, its focus was on natural resources management like forestry and agriculture. Four years into its planned five-year life span, RISAT-1 was hit by orbital debris and was declared nonoperational shortly thereafter.
RISAT-2B is the first radar observation satellite India has launched since 2012, but it's also the first of at least four such satellites that ISRO plans to launch by the end of this year, according to Spaceflight Now. The next one will be the first in a new series of high-resolution optical surveillance satellites called Cartosat-3, and it is scheduled to launch sometime this summer.
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